The Warriors were by far and away the club most heavily impacted by the pandemic over the past few seasons, having to relocate to Australia for long stretches away from home.
They made their long-awaited return to Mt Smart Stadium midway through 2022 and have completed all preparations for this campaign in Auckland, giving the club a massive boost.
On the field and in the coaches box there’s been a significant overhaul, with Andrew Webster given the reins of a squad featuring plenty of new faces for his first senior coaching gig.
Can the Warriors rebound from their worst-ever season or was 2022’s 15th-placed finish a sign of things to come?
The Sporting News previews the Warriors’ season below – including their best 17, the key to their success and predicted finish for 2023.
WARRIORS TOP 30 SQUAD | WARRIORS OFF-CONTRACT LIST | WARRIORS ROUND 1 PREDICTED TEAM
|1||Te Maire Martin|
Mitch Barnett, Jackson Ford, Valingi Kepu, Te Maire Martin, Luke Metcalf, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Marata Niukore, Taine Tuaupiki, Dylan Walker, Brayden Wiliame
Euan Aitken, Daejarn Asi, Lleyton Finau, Jackson Frei, Eliesa Katoa, Matthew Lodge, Dunamis Lui, Jack Murchie, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Kodi Nikorima, Aaron Pene, Pride Petterson-Robati, Junior Ratuva, Ashley Taylor, Reece Walsh
With so many questions still to be answered, the Warriors are a tough one to get a read on.
It remains to be seen how they’ll line up at fullback, with Te Maire Martin looking the most likely option, although Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is also in the frame.
They still look a little light on for quality in the outside backs, with several positions spots on the wing and in the centres still up for grabs.
In the halves, Luke Metcalf looks like partnering Shaun Johnson, but with just seven first-grade games to his name, the 23-year-old still has plenty to prove at the level.
On the positives, in Tohu Harris and Addin Fonua-Blake, the Warriors have two front-rowers they know can be relied upon, while Mitch Barnett and Marata Niukore should be handy inclusions to a backrow which features the dynamic Josh Curran.
STRENGTHS: Front row
WEAKNESSES: Outside backs
Honestly, the Warriors depth chart is better than a lot of other clubs who missed the finals last year.
With options such as Dylan Walker and Jazz Tevaga on the bench, as well as players who can play multiple positions in the backline, Webster has plenty of flexibility with how his side will line up.
The issue we see however is that some of their starting side might not crack it elsewhere in the competition.
It’s tough to highlight one key player in an underwhelming squad – but if the Warriors are to be any chance of causing damage this year, it all has to start with Addin Fonua-Blake.
The 26-year-old enforcer had established himself as one of the game’s premier front-rowers a few years ago, but due to a myriad of reasons, his form has slipped as the Warriors struggles continued.
Fonua-Blake will be tasked with leading a solid forward pack, but that also comes with plenty of expectation and he will need to be playing big minutes and putting up big numbers.
If the damaging prop can return to his best, it could lay a platform for the halves and outside backs to score points and earn some victories along the way.
Valingi Kepu is a giant front-rower who is set to push for a spot in the Warriors side this season, as Webster looks to rebuild the club.
The 20-year-old has already gained experience in the QLD Cup competition for Redcliffe and is a long-term prospect that Warriors officials are extremely invested in.
Kepu is signed to the club’s top 30 roster until the end of 2024, and it would be no surprise to see him debut this season.
His twin brother Otukinekina was initially on this list alongisde Valingi, but has been released from his contract by the Warriors.
Rounds 7-11: Cowboys [H], Storm [A], Roosters [H], Panthers [Magic Round], Bulldogs [A]
The Warriors’ run into their first bye of the season is enough to have Webster waking up in a cold sweat.
Taking on two of last year’s top four, including the reigning premiers, as well as two of competition’s modern powerhouses, the Warriors will know exactly the level they need to get to if they’re to challenge for success any time soon.
The positive is that this run comes nearly two months into the regular season, giving the new-look team time to find a bit of chemistry and hopefully chalk up a few wins.
Conversely, for the glass half-empty types, if the Warriors are already chasing their tails before they face the Cowboys in round seven, things are unlikely to improve over the following month.
PREDICTED FINISH: 17th
Someone’s got to finish last and unfortunately for the Warriors, they’re our tip for the spoon.
While they may have reinforced in some areas, none of the new signings look likely to take them to the next level in our eyes.
If Webster can get them all pulling in the right direction and they can get a big enough boost out of being based in New Zealand full time, they will definitely prove us wrong.
At the moment though, we suspect it could be a long season for the Warriors.