With a watershed season now in the rearview mirror, This Warriors Life dishes out some awards for the many standout performers (and a few underperformers) in the Warriors’ 2018 NRL campaign.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck produced arguably the finest season ever by a Warriors player, which should see him scoop the Fullback, Captain and Player of the Year gongs at the Dally Ms in a fortnight’s time. The skipper was invariably the best player on field in 2018 and finished with 167 metres per game (sixth in the NRL), 92 tackle-busts (seventh), 13 line-breaks and 10 try-assists. But the stats don’t tell the full story of his inspirational efforts – or his unparalleled ability to pull off near-impossible try-saving tackles on the reg. Categorically embarrassed every critic who said he was wasting his career by staying at the Warriors.
Runner-up: In any other season Issac Luke would have been a runaway winner of the Warriors’ Player of the Year award. After underwhelming 2016-17 campaigns that saw him under pressure to retain the No.9 jumper, Luke rivalled Souths sensation Damien Cook as the most valuable hooker in the NRL. Fit and hungry again, Luke played several match-winning hands for the Warriors with his dangerous combination of electric dummy-half running, adlib attacking instincts, aggressive defence and astute kicking.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Although he made five interchange appearances in 2017, Isaiah Papali’i was still classified as a rookie this year and cemented himself as a permanent fixture in the Warriors’ 17. The hulking 19-year-old consistently impressed with his work-rate, imposing presence on both sides of the ball and all-round skill-set. Learning from one of the best in Tohu Harris and filled in magnificently during the second-row star’s seven-game absence during the second half of the season. Should get a Kiwis call-up in a few weeks’ time.
Runner-up: Joseph Vuna looks a great prospect, but for genuine impact this year 25-year-old prop Chris Satae deserves a mention. After notching three interchange appearances in 2017, the giant bookend improved with each of his 10 NRL outings, backing up his strong charges with stiff defence. Bewilderingly demoted for the underperforming Sam Lisone in Round 20 after playing eight straight games and only returned for the final-round clash with Canberra. Looked to be headed to Melbourne at one stage but re-signing him was a great move by the Warriors’ football department.
Chris Satae re-signs 📝
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) July 12, 2018
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
A stacked category with several worthy contenders. The difference between Issac Luke’s 2017 and ’18 performances was enormous, but we all knew what the veteran hooker was capable of at his best. Few saw Ken Maumalo’s breakout year coming, however. The strapping, but limited, winger’s head was on the block with Peta Hiku and Gerard Beale arriving, but his consistency and stunning all-round improvement demanded selection every week. Maumalo finished eighth in the NRL for run metres – including seven matches of 170-plus – but was more than a battering ram, adding some footwork and frequently earning penalties with his quick ruck-speed. He also fixed up his defensive frailties and was outstanding under the high ball. Maumalo will never be another Manu Vatuvei (particularly if he continues to score five tries a season) but he has overtaken his enigmatic mentor in several fundamental areas of the game. A quiet and tentative finish to the year was something of a disappointment, though.
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) May 7, 2018
Runner-up: Jazz Tevaga loomed as a fringe player at best in 2018, but took advantage of utility Nathaniel Roache’s pre-season injury to play 20 games and emerge as one of the Warriors’ most valuable and wholehearted performers. While his dummy-half work remains subpar, Tevaga’s industrious and energetic efforts as a middle forward were a constant source of amazement. Led his team in average tackles (34.6) despite starting just one game and contributed strongly with the ball, averaging 79 metres and leading the team in offloads (33).
Another category with a host of worthy winners but the class Tohu Harris added to the Warriors’ pack was palpable. A genuine workhorse – he was the only Warriors forward to average over 100 metres and racked up almost 30 tackles a game – Harris’ work was all quality. The former Storm gun crafted a lethal attacking combination with Shaun Johnson, Peta Hiku and David Fusitu’a, racked up 29 tackle-busts, 13 offloads and four try-assists in 17 games, and compensated for his right-edge teammates’ defensive deficiencies.
Runner-up: Only a shade behind Harris, Blake Green brought much-needed stability, composure and experience at five-eighth. The effect of his direction and control on Shaun Johnson’s game was enormous, shouldering much of the kicking load and notching 11 try-assists. The cool head the Warriors have been searching for since James Maloney left.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER
In a year that pretty much every Warrior lived up to or exceeded expectations, no player’s stocks dropped in 2018 more than Sam Lisone’s. The 24-year-old kicked off the year with a contract extension and his first NRL try, but he dropped out of the side after their Round 10 thrashing at the hands of the Roosters. Returned for two games late in the season but failed to impress, while his second suspension of the season ended his contribution to the first grade cause. At a career crossroads.
Happy Birthday Sam Lisone!
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) February 19, 2018
Runner-up: Tough to be critical after injuries plagued his start to 2018, but after missing just five of the Warriors’ games in 2016-17 Blake Ayshford failed to crack it for a top-grade appearance this year. The journeyman centre couldn’t force his way past a logjam of outside-backs and looks set to play exclusively in the ISP again next season.
TRY OF THE YEAR
Plenty of outstanding candidates in a season that the Warriors rediscovered their exhilarating off-the-cuff attack. But for a breath-taking combination of adlib brilliance and precision, we can’t go past the sizzling team try finished off by Solomone Kata against the Broncos.
Runner-up: Very difficult to narrow it down but this doozy conjured by Issac Luke and Shaun Johnson for David Fusitu’a was the Warriors at their best.
HIT OF THE YEAR
Adam Blair sealed a courageous win in Wollongong by ironing out long-time Kiwis teammate Jason Nightingale on the buzzer in Round 21.
— NRL (@NRL) August 4, 2018
Runner-up: Issac Luke brutalised Penrith pivot James Maloney in pretty much the only highlight from the last hour of Saturday’s elimination final loss. Unfortunately it seemed to inspire the super-tough Maloney to one of his finest finals hands as he engineered the Warriors’ exit.
BEST SOLO TRY
A 75-metre run from dummy-half by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, featuring a trademark sidestep to leave opposite number Michael Morgan clutching, laid the platform for an important Round 15 win in Townsville.
— NRL (@NRL) June 15, 2018
Runner-up: Issac Luke produced yet another memorable 2018 moment by shrugging off several Broncos defenders on a 20-metre sortie to the try-line in Round 18.
— NRL (@NRL) July 15, 2018
BEST CLUTCH PLAY
Shaun Johnson added to his peerless catalogue of match-winning moments by kicking two field goals inside the last two minutes of the Warriors’ Round 3 away clash with Canberra, stealing a 20-19 result. The latter was the Warriors’ first deadlock-breaking field goal to win a game since 2009.
With the under-strength Warriors’ Round 7 showdown with the previously unbeaten Dragons hanging in the balance, Issac Luke stepped up with a 65th-minute 40/20 that wrench the momentum away from the Saints. For good measure he powered over from dummy-half seconds later to all but seal a momentous victory.
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck produced an absolute master-class on both sides of the ball in the Warriors’ gutsy 18-12 win over the Dragons in Wollongong in Round 21. Made a searing line-break and saved a try with an improbable defensive play, while he was safe at the back all day and finished with a game-high 222 metres. Inspirational.
Runner-up: The above-mentioned clutch plays from Issac Luke came at the back-end of a magnificent all-round performance in a 20-12 defeat of St George Illawarra that made the rest of the NRL sit up and take notice. Just edges out Shaun Johnson’s dazzling displays against the Sea Eagles and Panthers, and Agnatius Paasi’s rollicking outing at Suncorp Staidum.
— This Warriors Life (@thiswarriorslyf) April 20, 2018
WORST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
When Manu Vatuvei had that infamous, butter-fingered shocker at Parrmatta Stadium in 2007, at least he was having a crack. The same can’t be said for Peta Hiku, who put in an entry for the worst performance ever in a Warriors jumper in a 36-4 loss at Panthers Stadium in Round 17. Nine missed tackles – including two that resulted directly in tries – and sloppy in attack, but it’s his lack of resolve in giving up on the chase shamefully early before Waqa Blake scored that eventually saw him spend several weeks on the outer. Hooked with 15 minutes left.
— NRL (@NRL) July 6, 2018
A string of blunders by Solomone Kata handed the momentum to the Panthers during the first half of Saturday’s elimination final defeat. Two botched play-the-balls were followed by a appalling defensive rush of blood that allowed opposite Tyrone Peachey to score his second try.
BEST TEAM PERFORMANCE
The Warriors bounced back from the Panthers Stadium debacle with a dominant 26-6 thrashing of the Broncos in Round 18. On the back of a bruising engine-room effort, spine trio Shaun Johnson, Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck tore the Broncos apart in perfect Sunday afternoon conditions – thrilling the huge expat contingent at Suncorp Stadium. Simon Mannering and Agnatius Paasi were particularly immense in a superb collective forward-pack display, while wily five-eighth Blake Green again pulled the strings expertly.
Runner-up: The two wins over the Dragons were outstanding, but we’ve plumped for the shorthanded Warriors’ shock 30-6 victory over the Roosters in Round 4. Unheralded types Mason Lino, Ken Maumalo, Bunty Afoa, Leivaha Pulu and Jazz Tevaga were the heroes of a result even the most optimistic Warriors fan could not have predicted.
WORST TEAM PERFORMANCE
There were a number of heavy defeats in 2018, but none as disheartening as the 36-4 loss to a Penrith side missing their Origin contingent. Panthers halfback Jarome Luai – making his first NRL start – did as he pleased in racking up 20 points against a second-rate Warriors outfit.
Runner-up: The Warriors lost after leading at halftime just once in 2018 – against the Titans in Round 20 at Cbus Super Stadium, where the well-supported Warriors had won their previous seven games. They were outscored 28-0 in a diabolical second half as the also-ran Titans romped to a 36-12 win.
A toss-up here, but we couldn’t go past retiring club legend Simon Mannering becoming the first Warriors player to bring up 300 first-grade appearances. The fact it doubled as his Mount Smart farewell made the occasion even more special, with the milestone capping an emotional week of Mannering-mania. The champion back-rower was just the 16th player to notch the triple-ton with one club.
David Fusitu’a stormed into the club record books with 23 tries in 23 appearances, equalling Francis Meli’s mark set in 2003. He also became the first Warriors player to top the NRL’s regular-season try charts and stay in top spot unless Valentine Holmes scores more than two tries in his remaining finals games. ‘Fus’ crossed for 15 tries in his first 13 games this season, then after a five-game dry spell he finished with a wet sail, dotting down eight times in the Warriors’ last five outings.