David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

NRL: Warriors looking to break eight-year round one hoodoo in season opening clash against Newcastle Knights

Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has impressed since returning from injury in the two preseason trial games. Photo / Photosport.
Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has impressed since returning from injury in the two preseason trial games. Photo / Photosport.

The Warriors will not be taking anything for granted as they look to break an eight-year round one NRL hoodoo against back-to-back wooden spooners Newcastle at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday.

The Warriors have not begun a campaign at their home ground or managed a first-up victory since they overcame Parramatta 26-18 at Mt Smart Stadium in round one of the 2009 season.

The notoriously slow-starting Warriors will be eager to impress in their first competition game under new coach Stephen Kearney and new captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, to help allay the fears of nervous supporters and sceptics alike.

Expectations are always high when it comes to the underachieving Warriors, but the impressive return from injury of Tuivasa-Sheck and the eventual addition of Kieran Foran to complete an All-Kiwis spine, together with hooker Issac Luke and halfback Shaun Johnson, has many predicting they will qualify for their first finals appearance since 2011.

A winless NRL Auckland Nines campaign and mixed trial results against Melbourne (18-30) and Gold Coast (26-6) has helped keep a lid on the hype but the knives will come out quickly and the pressure only intensify should the Warriors fall at the first competition hurdle.

It will take them some time to find their cohesion after Kearney's arrival late last year saw their systems and game plan undergo an overhaul however the former Kiwis coach is satisfied with where his players are at.

"I've been pleased with the progression of the group," said Kearney.

"I don't think you're ever really satisfied, you always want a bit more.

"But if I'm thinking about from where we were at the beginning of November through to now, there has been a progression, so I'm pleased with that."

At first glance the struggling Knights shape up as an ideal first round opponent, but the Warriors will be wary of an opposition outfit hungry to prove themselves as a team on the rise.

Two encouraging trial victories over Canberra (44-0) and Tweed Heads Seagulls (38-22) will give the Knights confidence after a disastrous 2016 season saw them claim just one win and a draw from 24 outings to finish bottom of the ladder for the second year running.

However, their promising preseason does little to mask the fact Newcastle are still to break an 18-game losing streak, and they will arrive in Auckland having won just one of their past 11 games at Warriors headquarters.

But optimism is high in Newcastle with coach Nathan Brown enjoying strong support in his second season at the helm, as he continues to reconnect the club with a community left hurt and disillusioned from the tumultuous years under former owner Nathan Tinkler.

After taking over from former coach Rick Stone and interim coach Danny Buderus, Brown gave 11 players their NRL debuts last season and almost all came from within the Hunter region.

That trend is set to continue after Brown confirmed last week that two more local juniors, forwards Sam Stone and Luke Yates, will be blooded in Newcastle's first grade squad for round one.

But with Jarrod Mullen facing a career-ending ban after testing positive to steroids and new recruit Rory Kostjasyn sidelined following a training accident, it will be left to Knights captain Trent Hodkinson, centre Dane Gagai and former Manly forward Jamie Buhrer to provide the experience.

The Warriors open their NRL season against the Newcastle Knights at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday at 4pm.

Warriors round one record:
2009 - Won 26-18 Eels (Mt Smart Stadium)
2010 - Lost 18-24 Titans (away)
2011 - Lost 24-18 Eels (Eden Park)
2012 - Lost 26-20 Sea Eagles (Eden Park)
2013 - Lost 40-10 Eels (away)
2014 - Lost 36-16 Eels (away)
2015 - Lost 24-14 Knights (away)
2016 - Lost 34-26 Tigers (away)

- NZ Herald

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