Now that 2016 has ended the mourning period has officially passed for me so I have now decided that it's time to comb through the painful memories of the Vodafone Warriors 2016 NRL season and conduct my season review.
2016 wasn't the year Warriors fans hoped for as the Warrior found themselves watching the playoffs instead of competing in them for the fifth year in a row, a tough stat to swallow but more on that below so let's just get into it.
My take on 2016
As is the case with Warriors fans (myself included if you go back and check my 2016 season preview article) confidence in the upcoming season was high.
With the signing of Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, the Warriors were saying all the right things leading into the 2016 season, the Warriors were projecting a focused and unified front to the fans and media all while denying rumours of Andrew McFadden's head being on the chopping block if the Warriors failed to reach the playoff's again.
After reaching the final of the NRL Nines against the Parramatta Eel's (Where they lost 22-4) it appeared that the Warrior may finally be able to get back into the playoff race.
Looking back at the season preview I wrote, two of the key weaknesses that I said may sink the Warriors season were unforced errors and a substandard defence.
Well, the Warriors obviously didn't read my preview as their defence was a disaster this season, they let in 601 points which was the third worst in the NRL.
On the other hand, the Warriors were, in fact, the sixth best performing team when it came to errors having 227 for the season, this is still too high as that is 9 ½ errors per game.
The main issue with the Warriors errors was the time and field position where the errors were made,
On countless occasions throughout the season, the Warriors would drop the ball early in their set while being in their own half.
This, in turn, put extra pressure on a team that hasn't been good at handling pressure and they crumbled as a result of this.
The Warriors were consistently inconsistent, winning one week and losing the next with the most embarrassing performance of the year a 42-0 lost in Round 8 to the Melbourne Storm.
But then the usual State of Origin Warriors form came into play again and gave the Warriors a slight sniff of playoff football until the Warriors ended on a low note, losing the last four matches in a row.
Throw in a drug scandal (more on that below), disgruntled players and the coaching change rumours and 2016 was a year the Warriors and Warriors fans alike will be glad is now over.
My Positives for 2016
Well, 2016 didn't offer a season full of positives but there were a handful of things to smile about.
Emergence of Rookies
Bunty Afoa, Jazz Tevaga, Nathaniel Roache, Toafofoa Sipley and Ata Hingano all made their debuts for the club and have so far shown a lot of promise.
In my opinion, Bunty and Jazz can walk into the Warriors game-day 17 and should find themselves very much involved in the 2017 campaign.
Nathaniel, Toafofoa and Ata were also impressive and showed that they were more than capable of replacing the current topside players that are not up to the task of the consistent week to week football demanded of them (More on that in the negatives below).
Well, what can you say about Simon that hasn't already been said?
In my opinion, the Warriors at times do not deserve a player of Simon calibre, he is one of the few players the Warriors have on their roster that any other NRL club would sign in an instant.
Averaging near on 48 tackles a game, Simon desperately needs some ( should be all! ) of the other players to match his dedication and commitment to this team week in and week out and there were times throughout the season where Simon's frustration at his teammates bubbled to the surface.
Standing down from the Warriors captaincy was the best decision Simon has made as his performance benefited from the removal of the extreme stress that comes with being Captain of this side.
It is hard to not expect more of the same from Simon's performances in 2017, I just hope for his sake that the rest of the team don't leave him to do all the heavy lifting on his own again.
And Lastly Thomas Leuluai
If Simon Mannering is the heart and soul of the Warriors then Thomas Leuluai is surely the backbone.
Thomas is going to be sorely missed at the club, arguably one of the best defending halves in the NRL, Thomas threw himself into tackles with grit and determination and saved the Warriors defensive line on numerous occasions.
With Shaun Johnson having an unreliable 2016 the Warriors needed Thomas to step in and lead the team around the field, it didn't but that was more due to the substandard performance from the rest of the Warriors side.
Week in week out Thomas could be relied on to give his all for the Warriors and hopefully, this attitude is something he has passed on to the rest of the side now that he has headed back to Wigan.
Now if or when the NRL accept the Kieran Foran contract, the Warriors may have a good replacement for Thomas but if Foran only stays for one season (or isn't allowed to play at all) then the Warriors have some serious work to do in preparing a standoff for the future.
My Negatives for 2016
In Contrast to the slim pickings I had for season positives, there is an abundance of negatives but as I only had three positives above I will narrow the negatives down to three also.
Defense or lack thereof
The defense of the Warriors this season was simply put just woeful.
The Warriors line speed was sluggish and in the words of Jim Doyle, the Warriors defense lacked energy and attitude.
Attitude is where the Warriors need to focus on improving if they want to have any ch.ance of being taken seriously in the NRL again.
They cannot let Simon Mannering make all the tackles for another season, the whole team needs to pull their weight defensively.
Players need to have confidence in the players beside them in the defensive line to eliminate the edges rushing in, which has been a problem that is constantly targeted by opposing sides.
The Warriors will always be an attacking threat in the NRL, but until they learn to defend as a unit with a week in week out consistency, the Warriors will not succeed.
The Pill Scandal
Now, this was a pretty low point in 2016 for me, not necessarily for what happened but for how some of the players reacted after the news of their indiscretion broke.
As was widely published, six players (Manu Vatuvei, Ben Matulino, Bodene Thompson, Albert Vete, Sam Lisone and Konrad Hurrell) went out after returning to Auckland after the humiliating 42-0 defeat to the Melbourne Storm and took prescription pills with energy drinks to give themselves a high.
After arriving late and in a questionable state, to the game review video session, after being questioned by management it didn't take long for the story to break and the Warriors took action quickly by dropping the six players to reserve grade and sending them to Ruben Wiki for some punishment sessions.
As I said at the start I was angry or upset at the reaction from two of the players.
Ben, Bodene, Albert and Sam apologized to the team and the fans and quietly went back to training and trying to make their way back into first grade, but Manu and Konrad went the other way, from Konrad retweeting fans comments about Andrew McFadden losing the locker room, to Manu getting into fights with fans on social media.
Reading what these players were saying took me to a point where I wanted them both cut from the Warriors (Konrad eventually got released in a move that I think was good for both parties), Manu had a mental breakdown and eventually got his mind right and came back to the Warriors with more focus.
Now what these six did wasn't illegal but it was unprofessional behaviour and hopefully, they have all learnt from this as the NRL will always have issues with booze and drugs and the Warriors do not want to be seen as a 'Troublemaking" club.
My last negative is Ben Henry.
Ben Henry was a young footballer with plenty of potential, many selected Ben as a future Warriors captain, however, injuries derailed Ben's career,
2012 was the year Ben made his debut and he played all 24 games in his rookies season and was named New Zealand Rugby Leagues Rookie of the year.
Unfortunately, 2012 would be the only season of Ben's career that wasn't plagued with an injury.
After 2012 Ben only managed to play 28 more games in four seasons with two knee injuries and two torn ACL's over those seasons.
It was heartbreaking when he announced his retirement as I feel a lot of fans just wanted to see Ben come back from his injuries and get to play the sport we all love.
It is not all doom and gloom for Ben though as the Warriors have big plans for his future.
At the member's forum, Jim Doyle spoke briefly about Ben's future and advised that Ben is going to be assisting the players in regards to developing the younger talent, and they also will be getting him training to help develop Ben as a mental skills coach.
With all the horrible injuries Ben faced his attitude never wavered, so I think he has a terrific base to build from to assist the team with their mental toughness and I wish him all the best in this new career path.
My top three Warriors of the season
In a poor season only a few players shined, here are my top 3.
Copyright Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz
I feel like I'm just going to repeat myself with what I said above but Simon was hands down the best and most consistent performer for the Warriors this season.
Simon gives his all and rarely leaves the field all the while going just as hard in the 80th minute as he does in the 1st minute.
As stated above if his attitude and dedication could be passed on to the rest of the squad the Warriors would be an unstoppable force in the NRL.
When Bodene was signed it wasn't really that big a deal, Bodene played well for the Titans and Tigers but never really set the word on fire.
But in 2016 Bodene was one of the more consistent players for the Warriors, he was defensively strong and developed a good partnership with Shaun Johnson which leads to Bodene being an attacking threat on the edge,
With 2017 being Bodene's final year of his contract he will need to continue his 2016 form into the new season to get a new deal.
Solomona had a good rookie season in 2015 leading the Warriors in tries scored and all eyes were on him in 2016 to see if he could continue his attacking form.
Well yet again he lead the Warriors in tries scored, crossing the line 15 times, he also finished the season with a team-high 15 line breaks.
However what I think was more impressive was the improvements in his defensive work, now by no means was his defense great (to be fair no one at the Warriors bar Simon can say that) but he did help tighten the Warriors left edge.
If he can work on that defense even more, this preseason 2017 could be a great year for Kata.
My three biggest letdowns
With the top 3 list also comes my letdowns, the Warriors that offered so much but just didn't deliver.
Copyright Photo : Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz
I'm not sure what happened to Ben in 2016 but something was definitely missing, although he still lead the team in metres gained (2643 in total), the usual punch he gives the forward pack went missing.
His attitude appeared to change and with that, his form dropped.
New coach Stephen Kearney has made bringing Ben back to the form of seasons a top priority and hopefully, this will happen as if Ben has another subpar season the young props coming up will take his spot and leave him out in the cold.
Shaun is a divisive player, some fans cannot stand him and demand he be dropped after every loss while other's claim that he can do no wrong.
Myself, well I'd like to think I sit in the middle, Shaun's stats were not bad in 2016, he was in the top 5 in the NRL for try assists and line break assist but he also made the most errors in the Warriors side with 40.
I think the biggest issues I had with Shaun this season were his lack of running football and his one tracked mind when it came to his fifth tackle kicking options.
I'm not sure if Shaun's lack of running with the ball in hand was a mental issue after his injury in 2015 but if Shaun is to get back to being the attacking threat the Warriors need him to be he needs to attack the line more, this has a flow-on effect for the rest of the team as the more the opponents have to focus on defending Shaun the more gaps open up for the rest of the side,
In regards to Shaun kicking options, it felt like every fifth tackle in the red zone, Shaun just put a grubber kick in, yes a good grubber can result in a try or repeat set but if all you do is the grubber, the opposition can start preparing for it and defuse it with ease.
If Foran gets cleared to play in 2017 I feel that Shaun will have no excuses to not play the highlight reel football we all know and love.
I feel Manu's time is coming to an end, 2016 was not a great year for the beast, poor performances, off field issues and young players breathing down his neck.
I don't know what was going on in Manu's mind but it clearly affected his football, there were games where he showed glimpses of his past form but they were few and far between.
He has lost some of his pace and still has issues with his ball handling but on a positive note Stephen Kearney does seem to get the best out of him so hopefully, the Beast returns in 2017 in a better frame of mind.
I want to see the Beast back but if he cannot get back into for the Warriors have to let him go.
So 2016 was a disappointment.
Yes, it definitely wasn't the worse season the Warriors have had but with all the signings and preseason talk, the Warriors were meant to be a playoffs team.
The Warriors needed to reset and start changing the culture that has developed at this club.
Eric Watson and Jim Doyle have made changes all over the place to try and achieve this, with a new coach and a new football advisory board of Graham Henry, Awen Guttenbeil, Eric Mangini and Owen Eastwood.
Will this help? or is this just more confident preseason talk to suck the fans into a false sense of security?
For the sake of this fans sanity, I hope 2017 brings the results the Warriors always promise but never deliver.
What were you thoughts on the 2016 season?
Who was your Player of the year?
Who was your biggest disappointment?
Do you feel the Warriors have made the changes required for success?
Let me know your thoughts below