TWL TOP 10: WARRIORS’ GREATEST MONTHS

After plumbing the depths last year, Warriors-mania has gripped the rugby league world at levels not seen since their charge to the 2011 grand final.

The first four weeks of the 2018 season have been a euphoric ride for long-suffering Warriors supporters, with each week more memorable than the last. So where does this magical March rank amongst the greatest months in Warriors history?

10. August 2007

The Warriors came home with a wet sail to finish in the top four for just the second (and, to date, the most recent) time in their history.

Starting August off with a 31-all draw with the Roosters hailed as one of the greatest regular-season games of the modern era by the likes of Bob Fulton and Nick Politis, the Warriors then put the Titans to the sword 30-6 with halfback Grant Rovelli scoring a hat-trick.

After a 26-24 slip-up in Canberra in Round 23, they swamped under-strength heavyweights Manly 36-14 at Mount Smart and sealed their first finals appearance in four years with a final-round win at Penrith. Lamentably, the Warriors dipped out of the finals in straight sets to the Eels and Cowboys.

9. August 2006

Ivan Cleary’s celebrated tenure as Warriors coach started in diabolical circumstances: the club was docked four points for salary-cap breaches, before winning just four games in the first half of the season to put paid to their finals hopes. But the groundwork for the success that was to come over the next five seasons was laid in the closing rounds of 2006.

The Warriors grinded out a 12-10 win over Cronulla and swamped the previous year’s grand finalists North Queensland 26-0 at Mount Smart, before halting competition leaders Melbourne’s 11-match winning streak and inflicting the club’s only defeat at Olympic Park, a memorable 24-20 triumph.

Jerome Ropati was the four-try star as the Warriors rounded out a stellar month with a 42-16 drubbing of the Roosters in Auckland.

8. August 1999

The Auckland Warriors were in disarray on and off the field during Mark Graham’s first season as head coach, but a stirring finish to 1999 suggested good times ahead.

Following a two-point away loss to eventual premiers the Storm, the Warriors hammered the Dragons 32-18 at home, pumped the Cowboys 40-14 in Townsville, and then produced arguably the finest performance of their short, tumultuous history by dismantling heavyweights Newcastle 42-0 at Mount Smart.

The Warriors made it four straight wins for the first time in over three years by destroying Western Suburbs Magpies 60-16 in the foundation club’s last match as a standalone entity, with Stacey Jones crossing for a club record-equalling four tries.

It was not a portent of future success though – the Warriors finished second-last in 2000 after winning just one of their first 10, Graham was sacked at the end of the year and the club was effectively wound up as the troubled Tainui ownership made way from Eric Watson and co. to take over at Penrose.

7. May 2002

The Warriors’ charge to a historic minor premiership and grand final appearance in 2002 came on the back of an excellent foundation, with Daniel Anderson’s side winning 11 of their first 13 games.

A club record eight-game winning streak encompassed all of May, which saw the Warriors account for Wests Tigers (36-14), Souths (25-18), defending champs Newcastle (34-12) and Melbourne (28-12), with three of those victories coming on the road.

For one of the few times in Warriors history, they weren’t chasing results just to scrape into the finals – their outstanding start to the season allowed them to jockey for top-four positions at the business end of the year.

6. June 2013

Before this year, this was arguably the best four weeks of the Warriors’ torturous six finals-less seasons.

After a woeful 2-8 start that culminated in a humiliating 62-6 loss to Ivan Cleary’s Penrith Panthers, coach Matt Elliott’s madcap methods briefly struck a chord with the Warriors, who went on a giant-killing spree mid-season.

An exhilarating 56-18 demolition of Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium was followed by gritty victories over eventual grand finalists Manly (18-16) and the Roosters (23-12), and the Broncos again (18-16) that sparked hopes of a late charge to the finals.

The stunning run continued into July but a return of just two wins in the final six rounds saw the Warriors finish 11th and Elliott was canned just five games into 2014.

5. March 2018

Well, what a month it’s been.

Tipped as wooden spooners by many, the Warriors remained unbeaten at the end of March, slaying a host of hoodoos along the way. Backing up their maiden win in Perth over Souths in Round 1 with a solid victory over Gold Coast at Mount Smart, the Warriors went 3-0 for the first time ever with an extraordinary escape in Canberra, before trouncing the hotshot Roosters 30-6 in Sydney despite missing a host of top-liners.

The latter win represented the Warriors’ first four-match winning streak since 2013 (see No.6) and three consecutive victories on the road for the first time since 2011 – a world away from the nine-game losing streak the club ended 2017 on.

But it’s the manner of the wins that has been so uplifting for Warriors fans as their team shape as a genuine top-four contender for the first time in more than a decade.

4. September 2003

The Warriors’ follow-up to their watershed 2002 grand final season was not quite as impressive, but they produced some unforgettable moments at the back-end of ’03.

Stitching up a sixth-place finish with a 32-16 win over the Tigers in the final round – with Clinton Toopi bagging a hat-trick – the Warriors tore the Bulldogs apart 48-22 in the first week of the playoffs as winger Francis Meli scored an all-time finals record five tries.

A week later, the Warriors edged Canberra 17-16 in a pulsating sudden-death semi via a late Stacey Jones field goal. The charge ended with a gallant 28-20 loss to minor premiers and eventual champs Penrith in the preliminary final.

3. September 2008

The Warriors had plenty of ground to make up after winning just five games in the first 15 rounds of 2008, but they finished the regular season as one of the NRL’s form teams.

A 28-6 win at Parramatta Stadium – spearheaded by Manu Vatuvei’s demon-exorcising hat-trick – in Round 26 clinched an eighth-place finish. The Warriors then created history with an 18-15 boilover against minor premiers Melbourne in the first week of the finals, with Vatuvei laying on a late match-winner for Michael Witt.

A dominant 30-13 semi-final win over the Roosters followed – the last time the club hosted a finals match – before eventual premiers Manly doused the Warriors’ dreams of premiership grandeur with a 34-6 prelim rout.

2. September 2002

The high-flying Warriors’ September began with a disappointing 18-16 upset loss to the soon-to-be defunct Northern Eagles joint venture at Brookvale Oval, but they clinched a historic minor premiership via a 28-12 home win over Wests Tigers in the final round.

The Warriors despatched the Raiders 36-12 a week later to record their maiden finals victory, took the following weekend off, then overcame Cronulla 16-10 in a classic preliminary final in front of more than 45,000 supporters at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.

The 30-8 grand final loss to the Roosters on October 6 was deflating, but reaching the decider was an extraordinary achievement for the club given the rabble it was when Eric Watson picked up the pieces at the end of 2000.

1. September 2011

The Warriors entered Round 26 still not assured of a finals berth, but a gritty 18-6 win over North Queensland saw them grab sixth spot. A dismal 40-10 loss to Brisbane in the qualifying final gave no hint of what was to come over the following fortnight.

The club enjoyed arguably the two greatest wins in its history back-to-back, staging an incredible second-half comeback to edge Wests Tigers 22-20 in the sudden-death semi via a late Krisnan Inu try, before rolling minor premiers Melbourne 20-12 in an epic AAMI Park preliminary final.

Rookie halfback Shaun Johnson’s cross-field jaunt to set up Lewis Brown’s match-sealing try against the Storm has to rank as the Warriors’ most iconic moment.

While the 24-10 grand final loss to Manly on October 2 was bitterly disappointing, the Warriors seemed to be on the cusp of a halcyon era. It has instead been a succession of false dawns and underachievement since…but March 2018 could be the turning point fans have been desperately waiting for.

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