Best and worst of New Zealand League 2010-2019
2011 Preliminary final
A magical night that will live long in Warriors' history, sealing passage to the club's second grand final. The Warriors beat Melbourne at their own game, in their stadium, at their time of year. The Storm won four straight preliminary finals between 2006-09, hadn't lost at this stage of the season since 1998 and had the 'big three' (Smith, Slater and Cronk) at their peak.
The Warriors matched the Storm in the grind and the second half was their signature display of the decade; they kept the home side scoreless, despite immense pressure, before Shaun Johnson's mesmerising play (the step, jink, dummy and weave) put Lewis Brown across. Simon Mannering describes this match as the best team performance across his 14 years at the club.
2015 Anzac test
A rare Sunday afternoon test match and a wonderful Kiwis performance. The 26-12 victory was their first Anzac test triumph in 17 years, and their third consecutive transtasman win, after the twin successes in the 2014 Four Nations tournament.
Those performances had been rightly lauded, especially the final in Wellington, though Australian pundits down played those victories, pointing to a raw Kangaroos squad (10 debutants) and the absence of many regulars. Most big guns were back for this game, notably Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston, but it didn't matter, as the Kiwis stunned the hosts, with four tries in a 20 minute first half blitz, followed by stonewall defence in the second half.
The Warriors revivial in 2018
A thoroughly pleasant surprise. After a mostly fallow decade, with an unsteady mix of mediocrity, magic and near misses, everything clicked in 2018. Written off by almost everyone, the team won six of their first seven games. They looked fit, unified and cohesive, and new recruits like Tohu Harris and Blake Green had an instant impact, while Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was outstanding. Victories over the Raiders and Dragons were particularly memorable, as well as a big win over the Roosters in Sydney and clinical performances in Christchurch (vs Manly), Perth (vs Rabbitohs) and Townsville. The icing on the cake was sealing a top eight berth in Mannering's 300th game.
Famous finishes for Kiwis
Who could forget the 2013 World Cup semi final? Played in front of a sold out Wembley stadium it had everything, and was capped off by Johnson's remarkable last gasp try, when New Zealand had looked dead and buried with 30 seconds to play. It was a magic moment, though the Kiwis' limp display in the final against the Kangaroos left a bitter taste. The other grand finale came in the 2010 Four Nations final in Brisbane, when Benji Marshall engineered an unlikely comeback, completed by Nathan Fien's spectacular 79th minute try.
2014 Auckland NRL Nines tournament
One day, not too many years from now, people will look at the history books and wonder how more than 100,000 people were drawn to Eden Park for a pre-season event. But it happened. The Nines may have lost their lustre since but this was one hell of a weekend. There was a huge buzz around having all 16 NRL teams in the city, and some spectacular action. The Warriors played their part with some scintillating football, creating a wonderful atmosphere on their run to the semi finals.
The signing of RTS
April 8, 2015 was a pivotal day in the Warriors' history, as the capture of Tuivasa-Sheck was confirmed. It's still a bit of miracle that the Warriors lured him away from the Roosters, and he has been a wonderful signing. His 2018 Dally M award was due recognition, as he became the first Warrior to be honoured, and his ongoing improvement has been incredible, given the burden of captaincy and the modest roster around him. He's already among the top 10 players in the club's history, and will go much higher.
The Tongan revolution
As a pure spectacle, the 2017 World Cup semi final at Mt Smart was one of the best sporting events witnessed in this country. The rise of Mate Ma'a Tonga had a mixed effect on New Zealand league (it hasn't helped the Kiwis) but provided some unforgettable moments of colour and passion, particularly with their matches against the Kangaroos in Auckland in 2018 and 2019.
Manu makes history
Despite the sad end to his career, Manu Vatuvei was the greatest finisher in the Warriors' history, and there may never be another like him. This was confirmed in 2016 when he became the first player in more than a century of Australian league to score 10 tries across 10 consecutive seasons.
Johnson and Tuivasa-Sheck claiming the Golden Boot award; Mark Graham, Stacey Jones and Ruben Wiki joining the NRL hall of fame; Sonny Bill Williams inspiring the Roosters to a premiership on his return to league in 2013; Mannering reaching 300 NRL games and Michael Maguire overseeing a Kiwis revivial, highlighted by the 2018 win over the Kangaroos.
Ivan Cleary leaves the Warriors
A poorly handled affair that set the club back years. Cleary and his coaching unit had taken the club to four finals appearances in five years, including a grand final (2011) and preliminary final (2008). They had developed a legion of homegrown players and Cleary had a knack for getting the best out of local talent. But the club hierarchy wanted more, stalling on a long term deal for the Australian, who decided to take an offer from Penrith. No one knows what might have unfolded if he stayed on, but the turmoil and dramas of subsequent campaigns seemed so unnecessary.
Kiwis' 2017 World Cup campaign
An event that we had waited more than half a century to host turned into a bit of a disaster. Kiwis coach David Kidwell never got to grips with the job, and some of his left field ideas didn't work.
He wasn't helped by the suspension of Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor following the Canberra cocaine scandal in Melbourne, along with the shock exodus of the Tonga-aligned players on the eve of the tournament. The 4-2 loss to Fiji in the quarter final, along with some bizarre post-match interviews, was the nadir.
Shaun Johnson's Mt Smart exit
It wasn't so much the outcome, as the process that made this a low point. Johnson's departure wasn't a complete surprise, as he had looked around before re-signing his previous contract, but his treatment was. The halfback didn't come out of the affair lilywhite, but Johnson was afforded a staggering lack of respect, given his contribution to the club. The press release that acknowledged his exit summed it up, with his career at Mt Smart condensed into 12 words. Attempts to paint him as a bad egg amongst the playing group were also in poor taste and for all his renowned inconsistency, the Warriors struggled badly without him in 2019.
Woe in Workington
The shock 18-18 draw with Scotland was the clearest sign that all was not well on this tour, confirmed a week later by the one sided Four Nations final. There were mitigating factors — the field and facilities were well below test standard — but the Kiwis should have coped better. The decision to rest four front liners, including Jason Taumalolo, backfired and they were out enthused by the Northern hemisphere minnows.
The sleeping pills/energy drinks scandal (2016)
Six Warriors players, including Manu Vatuvei and Ben Matulino, were stood down after admitting to mixing sleeping pills with energy drinks on a night out. That it came days after a hiding in Melbourne, and a week out from the Anzac test, made it even worse. It wasn't a issue isolated to the Warriors across the NRL, though the Auckland club were one of the few that took decisive action. Only one of the six players involved remains at the club.
Warriors' unwanted streaks
July and August were often months of misery for Warriors fans, as they compiled lengthy losing runs in 2012 (eight matches), 2015 (eight) and 2017 (nine). The worst was probably 2015, as the club were on track for a finals spot, and maybe even a top four finish, before Johnson's broken ankle completely derailed their campaign.
The flat performances in the 2013 World Cup final, and Four Nations decider three years later. The 62-6 capitulation at Penrith in 2013, which remains a record defeat and the bitter falling out between co-owners Eric Watson and Owen Glenn.