The Warriors’ abrupt exit from the finals has left fans scrambling to find a surrogate team to follow for the remainder of the playoffs – and it’s slim pickings out there.
To help you choose which bandwagon to jump on, TWL runs the rule over the six teams still alive in the NRL premiership.
EX-WARRIOR CONTINGENT: Storm great Ryan Hoffman spent three seasons with the Warriors – including one as captain – before returning to Melbourne this year. The retiring stalwart made a miraculous return from a hamstring injury in Round 25 but was left out of the 17 last week. Albert Vete joined the Storm mid-season but has only had one run in first grade.
KIWI FLAVOUR: Nelson Asofa-Solomona missed the Storm’s win over Souths through injury, but there’s still the Bromwich brothers, Brandon Smith and Jahrome Hughes flying the Kiwi flag. Kangaroos and Maroons back-rower Felise Kaufusi is Auckland-born.
HEROES: There’s few who deserve to go out on a winning note more than Billy Slater, while Cameron Munster has to be in the conversation for the NRL’s most enjoyable player to watch.
VILLAINS: Cameron Smith’s referee manipulation and subtle grubbiness is wearing thinner by the year.
BEEFS: Warriors fans are still seething about Smith duping the refs on multiple occasions during a tense 12-6 loss at Mount Smart in Round 19. On the whole, though, respect between the clubs runs deep.
'High tackle, oh wait, it's Cameron Smith'
— Sporting News Australia (@sportingnewsau) July 22, 2018
THE COACH: Craig Bellamy’s influence of the modern game is phenomenal, while his coaches box blow-ups are always entertaining.
BANNERS: The Storm’s adoption of the AFL’s crepe paper banners for milestone men and the like to run through has been a cute touch from the NRL’s only Victorian club.
2018 v WARRIORS: The Warriors were belted 50-10 in Melbourne on Anzac Day but showed real grit in the aforementioned defeat at home. Traditionally a bogey side for the all-conquering Storm, the Warriors have now lost the last five encounters between the clubs.
VERDICT: There’s Billy’s farewell and the club’s quest to become the first team since 1993 to successfully defend a title in a full competition, but it’s hard to get too excited about another Storm premiership.
— Melbourne Storm (@storm) September 7, 2018
EX-WARRIOR CONTINGENT: Sio Siua Taukeiaho played one NRL game for the Warriors in 2013 before being snapped up by the Roosters and carving out a superb career. A real ‘one that got away’ story.
KIWI FLAVOUR: Taukeiaho, who ditched the Kiwis in favour of repping Tonga, counts Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Isaac Liu, Joseph Manu and Zane Tetavano among his clubmates.
HEROES: There’s not many universally-loved characters in the Roosters line-up, though it’s difficult to dislike unassuming types Boyd Cordner and Mitch Aubusson. Latrell Mitchell is a freak and Luke Keary seems like a good fella. Victor Radley is a cult hero in the making.
VILLAINS: Cooper Cronk rubs a few people up the wrong way, but TWL respects his dance-to-the-beat-of-his-own-drum style. If you’re genuinely a fan of Blake Ferguson, however, chances are ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude was your favourites late-1980s/early-1990s wrestler.
— Adam Marley ⚽️🇾🇪🔰🏴🦁🦁🦁 (@addsmarley) September 1, 2018
BEEFS: The big-spending Roosters are widely despised across the ditch but Kiwi fans are more ambivalent about their big-name-chasing tendencies. Plus the Warriors nabbed RTS from Bondi, so we can’t really complain.
THE COACH: Trent Robinson has an amazing record – four minor premierships and a second-placed finish in six seasons at the Roosters – and is one of the more accommodating coaches you’d come across.
BANNERS: We’ve spent many a sleepless night trying to figure out the possible connection between Family Guy and the Roosters. The only conclusion we can draw is that the owners of the ‘Giggity Giggity’ banner featuring Glenn Quagmire and the Stewie Griffin ‘Victory Is Ours’ sign are merely combining their two great loves.
2018 v WARRIORS: The under-strength Warriors carved out a momentous 30-6 win in Round 4, but the Roosters returned the favour 32-0 at Mount Smart just six weeks later.
VERDICT: A solid Kiwi connection and a great pick if you want to back against the vast majority of Aussie neutrals and their tired ‘salary cap sombrero’ whinges.
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
EX-WARRIOR CONTINGENT: Nil
KIWI FLAVOUR: Auckland-born Hymel Hunt is about the only thing close to a New Zealander you’ll see in the Pom-obsessed Rabbitohs’ line-up during the finals.
HEROES: Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess would have to rank among the NRL’s most popular players. But personally, GI’s ‘goanna’ try celebration is overdone and ‘Slammin’ Sam’s’ tough-guy carry-on has a grub quotient that is way too high for our liking. Damien Cook, though, ticks all the right boxes and John Sutton is heart-warming local story.
One of South Sydney's sons has big hopes for Damien Cook. 🐇❤️💚
— South Sydney Rabbitohs 🐰 (@SSFCRABBITOHS) September 9, 2018
VILLAINS: No real heels in the myrtle-and-cardinal these days now that Robbie Farah has returned to Tigertown.
BEEFS: Nothing specific with the Warriors, but Russell Crowe’s ‘Book of Feuds’ goes beyond the bounds of good-natured banter to become petty and insular. It’s not our fault you got kicked out of the comp.
RUSSELL CROWE’s fabled Book of Feuds has ignited Friday night’s blockbuster by claiming Sydney Roosters are a club without the soul, romance and tradition of his South Sydney Rabbitohs. Via @BulldogRitchie https://t.co/A2iLxthTPb
— The Daily Telegraph (@dailytelegraph) August 7, 2018
THE COACH: The Rabbitohs have got a good one in rookie mentor Anthony Seibold. But can they hang onto him beyond this year with the Broncos prowling?
BANNERS: The ‘Scum: Forever In Our Shadow’ banner directed at the Roosters was embarrassing. The fact fans still use the slogan (minus the ‘Scum’ part) sums up the club’s misguided arrogance.
2018 v WARRIORS: The Warriors kicked off a watershed campaign with a surprise 30-20 win over the Rabbitohs in Perth, but Souths bullied the Warriors in a 30-10 result in Auckland in Round 12.
VERDICT: Barely any Kiwis to speak of, their biggest stars have annoying traits, and their fans have a gigantic chip on their shoulders. Not our cup of tea.
EX-WARRIOR CONTINGENT: Chad Townsend and Jayson Bukuya both returned to the Shire to help the Sharks to a premiership in 2016 after providing questionable value to the Warriors. Their presence is a negative when it comes to picking a surrogate team. Sosaia Feki was an NYC premiership winner with the Warriors.
KIWI FLAVOUR: It’s pretty much just Feki in the current line-up. Valentine Holmes has Maori blood, while injured star Wade Graham’s likely replacement, Scott Sorenson, is the nephew of Kiwi legends Dane and Kurt Sorenson.
HEROES: Holmes is electric and the retiring Luke Lewis represents much of what is good about rugby league.
VILLAINS: The heel factor is high at the Sharks with Josh Dugan, Andrew Fifita, Paul Gallen, Aaron Woods and even Matt Moylan bringing villainous traits to the table.
BEEFS: The Warriors were robbed of a win – and effectively the fourth-place finish the Sharks went on to achieve – by a forward pass that was let go late in the Round 16 clash at Mount Smart, allowing Edrick Lee to dive in for the match-winner. That wasn’t Cronulla’s fault, but Paul Gallen goading the Warriors crowd post-match was in pretty poor taste after snatching an undeserved win.
Just in case you were on the fence about whether Paul Gallen was the biggest wanker of the NRL era or not…#NRLWarriorsSharks #ShireBogan #worsethanDavidWarner #seeyouinSeptemberballbag pic.twitter.com/wrI8ifXCfS
— This Warriors Life (@thiswarriorslyf) June 29, 2018
THE COACH: Shane Flanagan is rapidly becoming one of the NRL’s more unlikeable coaches, from his long-winded whinge after the Sharks’ 2017 finals exit, to his hypocritical post-match rhetoric on referee decisions this year depending on whether his team got the rub of the green or not.
BANNERS: The crude ‘Run Riot Cronulla’ banner brandished by fans in 2006, just month after the Cronulla race riots, is about as imaginative as you’ll get from Sharks fans, who are seemingly more concerned with aiming projectiles at opposition goalkickers.
2018 v WARRIORS: We only played them once and got dudded 18-15 in a result that proved very crucial ladder-wise.
VERDICT: We loved the Sharks’ run to a maiden premiership in 2016. Now that’s out of the way, there’s not a lot to like. Up, up Cronulla? Na.
EX-WARRIOR CONTINGENT: Just James Maloney, who orchestrated the Warriors’ demise last weekend with one of his finest hands. Nathan Cleary is a former Warriors ball-boy.
KIWI FLAVOUR: It’s a double-barrel-a-thon with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and James Fisher-Harris incumbent NZ Test players and Corey Harawira-Naera surely not far behind in getting a call-up. James Tamou is Palmerston North-born but sold out his Kiwi heritage to play Origin. Dean Whare is nursing a broken arm.
HEROES: You have to admire what Maloney and Cleary provide the Panthers with, big Bill Kikau is a machine, Reagan Campbell-Gillard is a throwback enforcer type, and Isaah Yeo and Josh Mansour are as likeable as they come.
VILLAINS: No genuine baddies in the playing ranks, though DWZ deserved more flak for his bumbling display in the Kiwis’ World Cup loss to Tonga last year. There is, of course, Phil Gould whose arrogance and self-interest know no bounds.
BEEFS: This isn’t the Warriors’ beef to bear, but rugby league fans in Christchurch will never forget Phil Gould pledging to help nurture the game in the earthquake-stricken region, only to pull the plug on the Panthers’ four-year deal (two years with a two-year option) to bring an NRL game to the city after just one season. There was no public explanation, other than the pathetically weak justification that the club shouldn’t have to come to New Zealand twice in one season. Cowardly.
Wish you were here @PenrithPanthers? Actually, weren’t you meant to be? On behalf of the Canterbury league community, thanks @SeaEagles for making @NRL dreams come true again #NRLManlyWarriors pic.twitter.com/QBhtxzb63A
— This Warriors Life (@thiswarriorslyf) June 9, 2018
THE COACH: Cameron Ciraldo got thrown in the deep end when Gould sensationally axed head coach Anthony Griffin. Highly rated and is doing a fine job so far by the looks.
BANNERS: The average Penrith fan’s banner makes the ‘Lets Gone Warriors’ guy look like an English Lit-Contemporary Art double major.
2018 v WARRIORS: A rollercoaster ride, with the Warriors’ 36-16 win at home to seal a finals berth bookended by a season-worst 36-4 loss at Panthers Stadium and a finals beatdown at the hands of a near-perfect Penrith side.
VERDICT: There’s a temptation to back the team that eliminated you from the playoffs to go all the way. But Gould alone makes the Panthers a no-go zone for Warrior neutrals. Avoid.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
EX-WARRIOR CONTINGENT: Leeson Ah Mau played two games for the Warriors in 2009, but more importantly he is coming back to the club next year. The recent Kiwi Test debutant had a monster game in the demolition of Brisbane, too. There’s also journeyman Jeremy Latimore, who gave good service in 2010-11.
— St George Illawarra Dragons (@NRL_Dragons) July 9, 2018
KIWI FLAVOUR: There’s Ah Mau, while retiring stalwart Jason Nightingale’s agonising injury absence has given Lower Hutt-born rookie Jordan Pereira a shot on the wing.
HEROES: If you can’t find anyone to get your juices flowing in a team that boasts James Graham, Matt Dufty and Tyson Frizell, you’re pretty hard to please. Gareth Widdop’s season-ending injury is a blow.
VILLAINS: You could easily slot the relentlessly-maligned Ben Hunt into the above category – what a story it would be if he could turn things around enough to guide the Saints to a premiership.
BEEFS: Besides the Warriors’ historically atrocious record against the joint venture, nothing springs to mind in this department.
THE COACH: Still can’t decide whether ‘Mary’ McGregor can coach or not, but he’s got enough underdog factor about him to make us want the Saints to do well for him.
BANNERS: ‘G.S.T.’. The ‘Great St George Team’ banner is the Holy Grail of rugby league crowd signs. Absolutely pointless, but so enduring and ubiquitous that it has gained a place in the game’s folklore only ‘Let’s Gone Warriors’ can compete with.
Doust self-ousting, but just like the GST guy still turning up 20 years simce it was a relevant issue, I’m hoping the Oust Doust banner is unfurled at Kogarah for generations to come pic.twitter.com/WXD7MiSXIP
— Rugby League Digest (@leaguedigest) February 1, 2018
2018 v WARRIORS: The Warriors produced courageous wins at home and away over their traditional bogey team – another reason to back the Dragons to go all the way.
VERDICT: The Dragons tick all the boxes for Warriors supporters sifting through the scraps for a substitute team to throw their lot in with. They may be long odds to repeat their Brisbane heroics this weekend against Souths, but their underdog narrative will gather irresistible momentum if they can pull off another boilover. Go Saints!