The Warriors’ 2023 season is over - but the support they gathered on their way to a preliminary final will live on into the next, and beyond.
Players, coaches and fans alike will be hurting from the 42-12 loss suffered at the hands of the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night. The Warriors have little but themselves to look at as they failed to respond to the attacking onslaught Brisbane threw at them. They wavered under the pressure at crucial moments and allowed far too much space to a team you simply cannot afford to give an inch.
One thing that has never wavered this season, or in fact in any season previous, is the support they have received.
“We love ‘em, the support they’ve given us, the movement Up the Wahs, all that stuff. We couldn’t have done it without them,“ said coach Andrew Webster after fulltime.
The movement has swept the nation - rumbling slowly at first as the wins came in during the season, selling out Mt Smart Stadium with increasing frequency and speed to finally reach a crescendo that saw as many as 10,000 fans descend on Brisbane in a bid to cheer their team into a grand final.
It was not to be, but Webster says the impact the support has had on the team and the game of rugby league is something he in the team are proud of.
“I don’t care if you’re in the South Island or the top of the North Island, they’re all talking about rugby league and that’s amazing. We’re really proud of that.”
The Warriors made their first top-eight finish since 2018, their first top-four finish since 2008 and their first preliminary final since 2011 this season - exceeding every expectation set for them. In finishing fourth, winning their home finals game against the Knights and making a preliminary final, they have shown the NRL they are worthy of counting themselves among the competition’s top sides. Webster says he feels the club is ready to go further and that fans should expect them to be pushing for higher honours in coming seasons.
“I feel like the football programme is in a position for us to launch something here. Stay consistent, challenge for grand finals and win grand finals.”
The first-year head coach said their attitude in the off-season and then on the first day of pre-season needs to that they want to achieve even more than they have in 2023.
“There’s a lot of work to do it though, we’ve got to come back hungry and it’s got to be in our actions, not just words.”
Support is in the DNA of Warriors fans, who in many years have had little to cheer about - it is likely these leaner seasons that have led to the tremendous backing they have received not only in Aotearoa New Zealand, but in Australia as well. Webster acknowledged the widespread impact he has seen and thanked Warriors fans across the globe for getting behind his side.
“Just to everyone, thank you so much - the whole nation, the whole support. Even the expats living in Australia over here. I think there’s a lot of NRL fans that aren’t Warriors fans who are now, so I’m really proud of that.”
Will Toogood is an Online Sports Editor for the NZ Herald. He has previously worked for Newstalk ZB’s digital team and at Waiheke’s Gulf News, covering sport and events.