Veteran Daily Telegraph journalists and NRL360 panellists Paul Kent and Phil Rothfield were among the army of Australian experts to tip the Warriors to run last in 2018.
It’s taken just 80 minutes of football for both crusty critics to declare the rejuvenated club a potential finalist.
“Is there anyone you’re dirty that you left out of your top eight?,” NRL360 co-host Ben Ikin asked the pair straight off the bat on Monday night.
‘Buzz’ Rothfield couldn’t back-track on his pre-season prediction quick enough.
“The footy they played on the weekend, albeit Round 1, they just showed a little bit to think they could be banging on the door of the eight,” he said.
“If they can find that form consistently.”
Delving into the Warriors’ stunning 32-20 win over South Sydney in more detail later in the show, the panel raved about the team’s obvious improvement fitness-wise – and the impact of much-heralded new head trainer Alex Corvo.
“I didn’t tip them to beat the Rabbitohs, and they looked lean, fit and at the back-end of the match, if the game kept going they would’ve won by more,” Ikin said.
Paul Kent – one of the underachieving Warriors’ biggest knockers in recent years – was especially flattering of Corvo’s influence after arriving from Brisbane in the off-season, while also highlighting the side’s lack of conditioning in the past.
“The Warriors are a good side,” Kent said.
“They’ve always played their best football when they’ve got match-fit and they’ve got momentum.
“The reason we’ve always had to wait to get the best out of the Warriors is because so often, if you lined up every team in the NRL from the fittest to the unfittest, they’d always be in the bottom half.
“For the first time, Alex Corvo’s put some steel in the Warriors.
“They’ve had a tough off-season, he doesn’t accept that it’s a different culture and they’ve got to be treated differently. He’s just gone over there and said, ‘guys, this is what it takes to win. Either do it or you get out of here’.”
Rothfield singled out a reborn Issac Luke and journeyman five-eighth Blake Green – who he named at top spot in his Round 1 ‘Winner’s’ list in his Monday Telegraph column – for praise.
“My only defence in tipping them to run last – I did it in October last year when they asked for it – and there was no Blake Green,” Rothfield explained.
“What Blake Green did was take so much organising pressure off Shaun Johnson, and Shaun Johnson tore them to shreds, absolutely nine-out-of-10 game.”
Ikin also revealed that a Rabbitohs player told him on Monday the Warriors’ tackle effectiveness and ability to win the ruck – areas which they faltered badly in last season – were first-rate.
They then screened a snippet of Sky Sports’ Pre-season With the Warriors documentary – and were taken aback and impressed by coach Stephen Kearney’s hard-line approach.
“That vision of Stephen Kearney is encouraging to Warriors fans. They are the eternal optimists, the Warriors (fans), they are a heartbreak side, they let you down year after year after year,” Kent said.
“Fool’s gold, I’ve called them,” Ikin interjected, a fair assessment in TWL‘s opinion.
“But you know what,” Kent continued, “a little bit of steel, that’s exactly what they need. It’s about time they toughened up.”
Meanwhile, Rothfield used his Telegraph platform on Monday to admit his folly in leaving Shaun Johnson out of his top 50 players in the NRL list published on the eve of the season.
NRL360 screens on Sky Sports 2 at 8.30pm on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday every week during the NRL season.