Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Warriors facing historical fight

Huge turnaround required to make top six has been achieved twice in past decade.
Tigers vs Warriors. Photo / Photosport
Tigers vs Warriors. Photo / Photosport

If you want a measure of the scale of the Warriors' task this season, take a look at history.

As managing director Jim Doyle outlined last week, the Auckland club are gunning for a top-six finish as a minimum, as it guarantees a home playoff game.

But it will be a steep climb from 13th last year. Only twice in the past decade has the 13th-placed team gone on to finish in the top six the following year - the Roosters in 2013 and Titans in 2009.

The Roosters had recruited Sonny Bill Williams, Michael Jennings, James Maloney and Sam Moa and still had the core of the side that reached the 2010 grand final.

In 2009, Gold Coast were anchored around Luke Bailey and Scott Prince, with Mat Rogers, Ashley Harrison, Preston Campbell and Nathan Friend at their peak.

Such a profound turnaround does not normally happen as it requires so many stars to align.

"Those stats reflect the challenge of this competition," said Warriors coach Andrew McFadden. "It's always a challenge in the NRL, but we don't buy into such statistics or records. They are meant to be broken anyway. I've seen teams finish dead last one year and make the grand final the next. We can turn our fortunes around very quickly."

Yesterday, another Warriors quest for the NRL premiership began in depressing fashion. Yet expectations have rarely been higher, at least not since 2011 when a strong roster was coming off a fourth-place finish the year before.

The Warriors have recruited well, adding strength as well as depth. There are still questions over some positions but, generally, there are positive vibes emanating out of Mt Smart Stadium.

But for how long? The team will need to achieve a level of consistency far beyond them over the past five years. To finish in the top six, they can't afford off days, or matches when some players don't turn up.

There needs to be a dramatic shift in the culture of the club, and that can't just be achieved with two or three good additions to the roster. It has to happen across the board. Remember, it wasn't just the injury to Shaun Johnson that derailed the team last season.

Even before they lost their pivotal halfback, the Warriors had won only a quarter of their games against top-eight teams.

And for the Warriors to move up the ladder, other teams need to fall down it. The Cowboys, Broncos, Roosters, Storm and Sharks all appear safe bets to stay near the top of the table.

Perhaps the Rabbitohs, Bulldogs or Dragons might slip out of the playoffs, although St George have a solid look about their squad, Souths still boast some enviable talent and Bulldogs coach Des Hasler hasn't missed the finals in years.

If one or two of those teams slip away, the Sea Eagles, Raiders, Panthers and Eels will be queuing to replace them.

- Herald on Sunday

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