Expect to see more resilience from the Warriors in 2023.
'A different group': The key word driving the Warriors ahead of NRL seasonExpect more resilience from the Warriors in 2023, says coach Andrew Webster.www.nzherald.co.nz
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Last season, the team were guilty of throwing in the towel when things began to go against them. It made for some big losses, with their interim coach admitting someone players would just give up in bad situations. When the season finally came to an end, they were the worst defensive team in the competition, conceding 700 points at an average of 29 points per game.
Resilience has been a keyword for the Warriors leading into the new season, and that remained the case ahead of Friday night’s opening-round clash with the Newcastle Knights in Wellington.
It hasn’t been a matter of pointing out their past failings, coach Andrew Webster said, but rather putting the team into situations that would make them a little bit uncomfortable during their pre-season preparations.
“I didn’t look at the boys and say, ‘look, you’re not resilient’,” Webster said. “I looked at the group and said ‘if we want to be the best in the NRL, this is what we have to be; this is what the best sides are, so let’s work really hard at it, put ourselves in these situations so that when it does happen in a game, we can draw on our training’.
“Every team is going to have moments where there is a lack of resilience or something doesn’t go their way. It’s how quickly they can fix that and get on to the next job. We haven’t focused on the past. We’ve focused on what we want to be rather than what everyone’s saying we were. We’re a different group … the players that were here, not all of them might have been responsible for that last year, so we’re looking ahead.”
It hasn’t just been a shift in mindset or running them through scenarios in training to prepare them for when things go against them, but Webster has also made a point to build on the resilience of the players physically as well. It was one reason why he recruited mixed martial artists from Auckland’s City Kickboxing gym such as UFC star Kai Kara-France to take the team through wrestling drills.
“We run a lot in preseason, but the hardest thing is that I could be the fittest runner in the world, but absorbing contact and taking someone to the ground and trying to keep them down for three seconds, then get up and do it over and over again, some blokes are doing it 40-50 times. That zaps the most energy from you.
“If you just run all preseason, you don’t get that benefit. So it gives us a lot of resilience and a lot of game-based fitness that they’ll actually receive on the field.”
The Warriors have made the playoffs just once since appearing in the 2011 grand final and in 2022 completed their worst-ever season, with a 6-18 record seeing them to a 15th-placed finish.
In his first job as an NRL head coach, Webster has made a point of emphasising the importance of playing hard, knowing what the team plays for, and doing small things to help lift the side from its current rut.
He said it was important that the side learned from their mistakes of last year, but that they don’t dwell on them.
Being back to normality is expected to help the Warriors this season as they go from being based in Australia and playing the odd game on New Zealand soil to a full home-and-away schedule now that the borders are open after the long Covid-19 restrictions.
Webster wasn’t with the team through their three seasons based offshore but said what he has seen since taking the reins has been a good sign of how the players are feeling.
“I see a happy group, a group that gets along well, a group that’s invested in what we’re trying to do. If people weren’t invested, I wouldn’t want them here.
“I see a group fighting for positions, they want to be part of a successful time at the Warriors and I think being happy away from football is definitely helping that.
“We’re a New Zealand club. We want to be here.”