The auditions are over and only one thing is for sure about the Warriors in 2019; they will look quite different this season.
That's inevitable, with the departure of Shaun Johnson, who was the focal point of their attacking game for so long, and the retirement of Simon Mannering, who anchored the defence for more than a decade.
But, so far, so good. The Warriors took care of the Tigers 26-16 in Whangarei on Saturday afternoon in a efficient display, with solid defence complemented by some moments of genuine flair with the ball.
Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu'a continued their try scoring form from 2018, while the pack showed enough to suggest they will be a bigger, more damaging unit this season.
But the key difference came on attack. Without the customary sight of Johnson flashing around the back of the ruck, as well as his flashing darts down the right hand side of the field, almost everything went through Blake Green in the first half. The Australian cajoled, organised and directed and did most of the general kicking. In Johnson's absence Roger Tuivasa-Sheck also took more of a play making role at times.
Halves contenders Adam Keighran and Chanel Harris-Tavita split equal time on the field and it was difficult to assess who edged ahead in the race to partner Green. Keighran is probably in pole position, as much for his ability with the boot as anything else, though both youngsters impressed in the second half with Green off the field.
Nathaniel Roache made some good inroads from dummy half, with one eye catching run, and was solid defensively, a significant boost on his comeback trail. Australian Lachlan Burr built on his solid effort in Geelong last week, while fellow new recruit Leeson Ah Mau also impressed, and both will intensify the competition for spots in the middle.
Local favourite Adam Blair was a late withdrawal with a hamstring strain, though it won't affect the veteran's chances for round one.
The Warriors opened the scoring in the fifth minute. After Keighran had gone close on one flank, Tohu Harris made space for Ken Maumalo to dive over in the corner. Maumalo was arguably the Warriors' most improved player in 2018, offering the yardage of an extra forward each week and much more solid defensively.
A try to fellow winger Fusitu'a, under similar circumstances, extended the Warriors lead, as they made inroads up the middle then found space out wide.
Luke Brooks ran off a sumptuous Ryan Matterson offload to put the Tigers on the board, after a Tuivasa-Sheck spill, but it was a rare blip in an otherwise dominant first half.
Maumalo's second, after the Warriors had stretched the Tigers from east to west and back again, put the icing on the first half. The second half was sparked into life by the try of the match, as a Jazz Tevaga offload and some snappy handling sent Fusitu'a over in the right hand corner. The modest crowd — basking in typical Far North sunshine — enjoyed that moment, as well as some resilient Warriors defence after sustained periods of Tigers' pressure.
Kearney used the second spell to give almost every member of the travelling squad some game time, and Adam Pompey's try off a judicious Peta Hiku chip should have provided the icing on a committed display. But the Warriors then seemed to ease to the finish, and two late Tigers' tries took some off the gloss off their win.
Warriors 26 (K Maumalo 2, D Fusitu'a 2, A Pompey tries; C Harris-Tavita 2, A Keighran goals)
Tigers 16 (L Brooks, L Garner, E Marsters tries; E Marsters 2 goals)