Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke – two big reasons for the hike in anticipation around the Warriors ahead of the new NRL season.
Fullback Tuivasa-Sheck and hooker Luke’s arrival from the Sydney Roosters and South Sydney respectively set fans’ pulses racing when their signings were announced last year.
With star halfback Shaun Johnson completing his return from an ankle injury, the Warriors will have attacking spark aplenty.
Add in a forward pack that includes starting props in Kiwi Ben Matulino and Queenslander Jacob Lillyman, another Origin representative in NSW second rower Ryan Hoffman and Kiwis skipper Simon Mannering and there is further cause for optimism.
But as the Warriors – who have a new captain in Hoffman after Mannering stepped down having served six years in the job – continue their search of a debut premiership, coach Andrew McFadden knows having promise isn’t enough.
“People have always talked about the Warriors and their potential,” he said.
“That means nothing. It’s all about performance on the field.”
McFadden has no doubt about the influence that Tuivasa-Sheck and Luke will have on the rest of the squad.
Like all class players, it wasn’t just what they did individually, but how they made those around them look.
“But they’re not going to turn things around for us by themselves,” McFadden said.
“It’s going to take a team performance to get that consistency we’re after.”
Since their last grand final appearance in 2011, the Warriors haven’t returned to the playoffs.
They appeared on target in 2015, climbing into the top four with eight weeks to go, before not winning another match to sink to 13th.
Injuries were a key reason for that losing streak, the big one being the loss of Johnson to a season-ending broken ankle during the second match of that record run.
England fullback Sam Tomkins, now back at Wigan, Lillyman, club record try-scorer Manu Vatuvei and experienced utility Thomas Leuluai were among others who finished the season in the casualty ward.
“People keep pointing to Shaun, but there was more than one player injured at that time and that certainly put us under a lot of pressure,” McFadden said.
“Probably with the depth and the experience in our squad, we didn’t handle it as well as we would have liked to.”
McFadden is confident the roster assembled for the new campaign would be able to cope better in similar adversity.
McFadden took over as coach when he stepped up from the assistant’s role on Matthew Elliott’s departure after round five in 2014.
He will go into his third season with speculation surrounding his security in the job.
“I’m certainly aware of the pressure I’m under here but from a day-to-day thing I don’t bother about that at all,” he said.
“I’m just focused on what the team needs and the team needs me to be directing them and making sure we have a high level of performance.”
Finishes over the past three seasons: 2015 – 13th, 2014 – 9th, 2013 – 11th
Coach: Andrew McFadden
Captain: Ryan Hoffman
Gains: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Roosters), Issac Luke (Rabbitohs), Ligi Sao (Manly), Blake Ayshford (Sharks), Jeff Robson (Sharks), James Gavet (Broncos), Ali Lauitiiti (Leeds)
Losses: Nathan Friend (Titans), Siliva Havili (Dragons), Dominique Peyroux (St Helens), Sam Rapira (Huddersfield), Sam Tomkins (Wigan), Chad Townsend (Sharks), Sebastine Ikahihifo (Dragons), Glen Fisiiahi (rugby union), Ngani Laumape (rugby union)
Strength: The firepower provided by three quarters of the Kiwis’ spine in fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, halfback Shaun Johnson and hooker Issac Luke.
Weakness: Centre remains an issue. Plenty of attacking threat in the likes of Konrad Hurrell and Solomone Kata, but also defensive frailties.
Best team: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tuimoala Lolohea, Konrad Hurrell, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei, Jeff Robson, Shaun Johnson, Jacob Lillyman, Issac Luke, Ben Matulino, Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman, Simon Mannering. Interchange: Albert Vete, Sam Lisone, Ben Henry, Thomas Leuluai.
Predicted finish: 3rd