While the Warriors have enjoyed the presence of some world-class playmakers over the years, forming a long-term halves combination has proved a perennial bugbear.
The incomparable Stacey Jones rarely had a playmaking partner for more than a season or two. After initial partner James Maloney left, Shaun Johnson searched in vain for a suitable right-hand man in the halves.
The coming together in 2017 of Johnson and Kieran Foran, champion halves, good mates and teammates for New Zealand in 13 Tests, was ultimately a big tease. The duo played together just 13 times (for five wins and eight losses) as both battled injuries – a largely overlooked factor in the Warriors’ dismal season.
The reliable Blake Green’s arrival seemed the perfect fit for the flighty Johnson – and the results indicated the Warriors had finally found the perfect duo to steer the team around the park. Johnson’s shock exit at the end of 2018 put the Warriors back to square one, with coach Stephen Kearney mulling over his options for 2020 in the wake of a dreadful campaign.
So who are the most prolific and successful halves combinations in the club’s 25-season history? We’ve calculated the win percentage of every halfback/five-eighth pairing (minimum 15 games) the Warriors have trotted out and ranked the top 10.
The results are almost certain to surprise you:
MOST SUCCESSFUL WARRIORS HALVES PAIRINGS BY WIN PERCENTAGE (MIN 15 GAMES)
10. Stacey Jones and Gene Ngamu – 51 games (1995-99): 21 wins, 30 losses (41.1% win)
Surprisingly, no players have lined up together in the halves more often than foundation duo Jones and Ngamu, winning three of four games when teaming up during that ’95 campaign.
Equally unexpectedly, the next most successful year together was the forgettable 1997 Super League season; they steered the ship for six of the Warriors’ seven wins, while the team went 1-4 without them. The inconsistent Ngamu was punted midway through 1999.
Jones and Ngamu won eight of 10 Tests as the Kiwis’ halves pairing.
— NRL (@NRL) September 7, 2011
9. Shaun Johnson and James Maloney – 38 games (2011-12): 17 wins, 21 losses (44.7% win)
The partnership most Warriors fans pine for – no doubt magnified by James Maloney’s Midas touch stints at Sydney Roosters and Cronulla. Maloney, in just his second season of NRL footy, and rookie wunderkind Johnson steered the Warriors to the 2011 grand final.
But with Maloney angling for a return to Sydney for family reasons and Johnson suffering the second-year blues, the combination had a sad end during 2012. The Warriors lost their last eight games, with Johnson dropped for the final-round encounter against Canberra and Maloney relegated to the bench in his last appearance for the club.
Despite playing only a season and a half together, just two other Warriors halves combinations have featured in more first-grade games.
8. Stacey Jones and Motu Tony – 21 games (2001-03): 9 wins, 1 draw, 11 losses (45.2% win)
A historic combination, this one. Captain Jones and versatile youngster Tony were the Warriors’ halves in their first-ever finals game in 2001 and the club’s maiden grand final appearance in ’02.
The emergence of gun teenagers Lance Hohaia and Thomas Leuluai ensured the Jones-Tony pairing was only an intermittent one, however.
7. Stacey Jones and Lance Hohaia – 38 games (2002-09): 21 wins, 22 losses (48.8% win)
This duo had a charmed start together, notching an 11-2 win-loss ratio as Hohaia emerged as one of the standout rookies of 2002 and the Warriors clinched the minor premiership.
Hohaia ultimately came off the bench in the grand final, though, while his combination with Jones failed to produce similar success in subsequent seasons. The diminutive utility arguably produced his best football at fullback and hooker during a decade with the Warriors.
6. Grant Rovelli and Jerome Ropati – 18 games (2006-08): 9 wins, 9 losses (50% win)
A bit of a bolter here, with Ropati far better known as a centre.
After moving Nathan Fien to hooker, rookie NRL coach Ivan Cleary teamed Kiwi Test star Ropati up with unheralded North Queensland half Rovelli for the first time in Round 10 of 2006 and they played 16 straight games, carving out a handy 9-7 record together.
The Warriors missed the finals due to a salary cap breach that cost them four competition points.
5. Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend – 34 games (2014-15): 18 wins, 16 losses (52.9% win)
Unable to forge a regular first-grade spot at Cronulla, Townsend enjoyed a breakout season with the Warriors in 2014. Townsend, boasting the slickest white guy hairdo since Gene Ngamu, and Johnson combined for nine wins and seven losses that year as the Warriors went heartbreakingly close to a top-eight finish. They won half of their 18 games together in 2015 before Johnson suffered a season-ending broken ankle.
Townsend returned to the Sharks in 2016 predominantly due to a family illness. Ironically, he effectively swapped places with Jeff Robson, who had kept Townsend in reserve grade early in his career and linked with the Warriors for an ill-fated stint. Robson left Auckland before the halfway mark of the 2016 season while Townsend wore the No.7 in the Sharks’ grand final triumph.
The pair reunited at Cronulla in 2019 and steered the club to seventh and a week one finals exit, with Johnson struggling with injuries and form while Townsend won the Sharks’ Player of the Year gong.
4. Stacey Jones and John Simon – 25 games (1999-2000): 14 wins, 1 draw, 10 losses (58% win)
Kicking off a quite frankly staggering top four is the talismanic Jones and journeyman Simon. Cut by Parramatta midway through 1999, the former Test and Origin halfback lobbed at the Auckland Warriors and was made captain in just his second game for the club.
Simon and Jones won seven of their 12 games together in ’99 and combined for seven wins and a draw in 13 games in 2000 after Jones returned from a broken arm – despite Mark Graham’s outfit finishing 11th (of 17) and 13th (of 14) respectively in those seasons.
Without Jones and Simon teaming up in the halves, the Warriors had an abhorrent 4-1-20 record in 1999-2000.
3. Grant Rovelli and Michael Witt – 30 games (2007-08): 17 wins, 1 draw, 12 losses (58.3% win)
Probably the least-heralded Warriors halves combo to play more than a handful of games together, Roveilli and Witt are the third-most successful pairing in the club’s history.
Witt joined the Warriors in 2007 after stints with Parramatta and Manly. With Rovelli, the ace goalkicker helped guide the Warriors to their first finals appearance in four years – and the club’s most recent top-four finish – with 13 wins and a draw in their 20 regular-season games together.
Ivan Cleary mixed it up in 2008, with Nathan Fien occupying a starting jersey for much of the season; Witt and Rovelli battled it out for the other halves spot as the Warriors stormed to a preliminary final appearance.
Their unlikely success provides an age-old reminder that no matter how good your halves are, they can’t fire without dominant forwards – as Witt and Rovelli had in 2007 with Price, Wiki, Luck and company. Johnson and a revolving cast of five-eighths were hampered by an ailing pack.
2. Brett Seymour and James Maloney – 20 games (2010-11): 12 wins, 8 losses (60% win)
Top marks if you predicted this halves pairing to boast a top-two winning percentage in Warriors history.
Wayward former Brisbane and Cronulla half Brett Seymour joined the Warriors in 2010, playing just 22 games. But he teamed up with Maloney in 20 of them and the duo struck up a nice combination, steering the side to a fifth-placed finish in 2010.
They helmed a five-match winning streak together during the first half of 2011, but Seymour suffered a fractured eye socket in Round 11 then a broken thumb in his comeback match.
Seymour’s misfortune allowed rookie sensation Shaun Johnson to cement the No.7 jersey and spearhead the Warriors’ drive to the grand final with Maloney, while Seymour joined Super League club Hull FC at the end of the year.
1. Shaun Johnson and Blake Green – 16 games (2018): 10 wins, 6 losses (62.5% win)
Blake Green arrived in 2018 after successful stints at Wigan, Melbourne and Manly, and immediately clicked with Johnson. The steady playmaker was the ideal foil for the mercurial talents of Johnson.
The duo won seven of their first eight games playing together and ultimately piloted the Warriors to their first finals series in seven years. After Johnson’s bombshell exit from the club at the end of the year, Green struggled somewhat in the role of senior half in 2019 when paired with rookies Adam Keighran and Chanel Harris-Tavita, and the inconsistent Kodi Nikorima.