All going well, the Warriors will return to Mt Smart Stadium in 2021. Christopher Reive looks at the club's strength of schedule and some key fixtures as they eye another run to the playoffs.
When you're months out from the competition actually getting underway, the only measuring stick you have for the upcoming season is how teams placed in the most recent campaigns. Yes, you have to take into account player movements but, in most cases, they're generally not big enough that they'll completely change a team's fortunes.
So, looking at what awaits the Warriors, they should be happy with how the chips have fallen on the schedule. They have a 50/50 mix between games against the top eight and bottom eight in 2020, with 12 of their 24 games against teams in each group. That's a much friendlier spread than that of the Brisbane Broncos (15 games against 2020's top eight), while a few other teams have 13 games each against that group.
The Warriors will meet nine teams twice during the season – four of whom featured in the playoffs in 2020, though three of the four qualifying in the lower half of the top eight.
Finally, like their ratio of top eight to bottom eight opponents, the Warriors have half of their games at home – all going well, that will be at Mt Smart Stadium, starting with a back-to-back homestand in the opening two rounds.
v Gold Coast Titans; v Newcastle Knights – Rounds 1 and 2, Mt Smart Stadium
We're just going to package these games into one here. Pencilled in on March 13 and 19, if the Covid-19 pandemic is indeed under control and non-quarantined trans-Tasman travel is happening then there will be a lot of emotion around these matches. The round one clash against the Gold Coast – a rather improved Gold Coast team at that - will be the Warriors' first game at their home venue since August 30, 2019. That feeling will carry over into week two against the Knights, with new head coach Nathan Brown getting his first crack at his former team. In a fun little coincidence, Brown was let go by the Knights the same week of the Warriors last game at Mt Smart.
v Melbourne Storm – Round 7, Mt Smart Stadium
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The return of the traditional Anzac Day clash. Despite the fact the Warriors haven't beaten the Storm since 2016, there's always a bit of feeling in the Anzac Day window and this will be the Warriors' first test against one of 2020's grand finalists – in this case, it's the reigning champions. There is belief at the Warriors that they have put together a strong roster who are capable of special things, and this game provides the greatest measuring stick for that.
v Cronulla Sharks – Round 17, Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
In recent seasons, the Sharks have had the Warriors' number. In their last seven encounters, the Warriors have won just once – a 19-18 win in July, 2019. They've run the Cronulla side close a few times, with three of those six losses coming by fewer than 10 points, but have also had just as many blowout losses, including a 46-10 thrashing in 2020. Their round 17 clash in 2021 is the first game in a tough three-match stretch for the Warriors, which also includes the Penrith Panthers and South Sydney Rabbitohs. Getting this stretch off on the right foot could prove to be vital come the end of the season.
Games against 2020's top eight: 11 (five against the top four)
Games against 2020's bottom eight: 13
Reverse fixtures: Storm, Raiders, Knights, Sharks, Titans, Cowboys, Tigers, Dragons, Sea Eagles.
Strength of schedule grade: B