Hugh McGahan: New Zealand Warriors need to make top six

Issac Luke is a big recruit for the New Zealand Warriors. Photo / Getty
Issac Luke is a big recruit for the New Zealand Warriors. Photo / Getty

We can all be prone to getting carried away at this time of the season but expectations around the Warriors' chances this year are at their highest since 2003. And rightly so.

The Warriors haven't done a lot to meet expectations over the last decade, even in 2012 after making the grand final the previous year, but this year has to be different.

They have a very good roster, highlighted by the additions of hooker Issac Luke and fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, and must take advantage.

Even the signing of halfback Jeff Robson - and I wasn't a fan when the club picked him up because I thought Tui Lolohea should be given a chance in the halves - looks a good one. He will be able to take over the organising duties and let Shaun Johnson just play.

Johnson won't have any more room to move wearing the No 6 jersey but often looked like the burden of driving the team around the park cluttered his mind too much and limited his effectiveness.

Robson also has a decent kicking game, which has been an issue for the Warriors.

A minimum requirement for the Warriors this season is top six. If they can't make the top eight, given the roster they have, we really do have to wonder what is wrong at that place. They should be able to win half their games.

One thing that worries me a little is the continued chatter about whether Andrew McFadden will get the sack. The club have continually said they support him but it is a distraction and I really hope it doesn't come to the fore too much.

It can derail a campaign and it's why I don't think the Wests Tigers will challenge this season, even though they have an exciting, young squad. They won't get to that point until they sort out their coaching situation.

Picking a winner in the NRL is too hard with the teams all playing a similar style and playing stocks evenly spread. If I had to, I would plump for either the Broncos or Cowboys.

I think both the Roosters and Rabbitohs to drop back, the Storm to be strong again and Manly to struggle more than most think but I'm picking the Eels to be the big improvers. They've recruited well and have a good coach and will be better than they were in Thursday night's opening game.

One of the best things is that the season has started. It pained me to see our game dragged through the mud over the offseason with all the off-field issues. Finally we can talk about actual footy.

I'm sick of social media taking control of our sport. Players live out their lives there and open themselves up to being crucified. Then they're the first to complain when it blows up in their face.

In saying that, one thing I would really like to see this year is a bit more honesty from players and coaches in their after-match and pre-match comments. The NRL have sanitised things too much and players and coaches don't feel like they can say anything in fear of being sanctioned.

Wayne Bennett is the closest to being an honest commentator but even he's rapped over the knuckles for what he says sometimes. Roosters coach Trent Robinson can also be honest but the rest of them have gone to the same school of boring.

- NZ Herald

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