Round 1 Predicted Teams – Warriors: Webster’s long rebuild to take time but recruits add much-needed experience

    As part of a daily series profiling the expected Round 1 sides for all 17 NRL clubs in 2023, the Warriors enter the new year enjoying the comforts of home with a new-look side.

    After three years based in Australia due to the pandemic, the Warriors return to normal in 2023.

    But for long-suffering fans, normal also means a team in flux and low expectations for a side that has lost a few big names in the past 12 months. 

    New coach Andrew Webster faces a gigantic task to get the Warriors anywhere near the top eight unless he can harness the enormous potential of their younger players and get the best out of some veterans who are in the twilight of their careers.

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    After all their sacrifices over the past few years you’d think they’d get some respite with the draw but they are on the road in four of the first six rounds, including onerous trips to Townsville and Newcastle.

    (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

    Who’s new? 

    Eels forward Marata Niukore headlines a lengthy list of recruits with the talented second-rower returning to the club after playing 96 matches at Parramatta over the past five seasons.

    Kiwi international Te Maire Martin could be a handy pick-up after he revived his career at Brisbane last season following a stint in retirement while former Raiders fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad could be another major boost for the Auckland-based side if he can recapture his 2019 form. 

    They have added experience in Knights forward Mitchell Barnett and Manly utility Dylan Walker and journeyman centre Braydon Wiliame. 

    Speedy ex-Sharks halfback Luke Metcalf gives them another playmaking option while Jackson Ford didn’t get much of a chance at the Dragons and could fill a role nicely as an edge or middle forward option.

    Marata Niukore of New Zealand (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images for RLWC)

    Who’s gone? 

    Reece Walsh’s request for a release to return home to Brisbane stung the Warriors – he was a player they could have built their team around.

    Euan Aitken followed the lead of Matt Lodge and Kodi Nikorima by requesting a release when the move back to Auckland was confirmed and he will line up for the Dolphins.

    Young second-rower Eliesa Katoa was surprisingly allowed to switch to the Storm along with prop Aaron Pene, fellow forward Jack Murchie has joined the Eels while talented utility Chanel Harris-Tavita is taking a year-long sabbatical from professional sport.

    Veteran forward Ben Murdoch-Masila was released recently to finish his career with St George Illawarra.

    Shaun Johnson. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

    Key spots to unlock 

    Shaun Johnson will likely get first crack at halfback with Martin at five-eighth and Nicoll-Klokstad chiming in from fullback. 

    With Metcalf and Ronald Volkman, another promising playmaker they signed midway through last season from the Roosters, there are younger options for the future at Webster’s disposal if the experienced halves don’t get the job done. 

    The arrival of Barnett, Niukore and Ford gives the Warriors plenty of high-level forwards for their starting pack when everyone is available so someone like Josh Curran or Jazz Tevaga could be reduced to an interchange role.

    Round 1 predicted team

    1 Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
    2 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
    3 Adam Pompey
    4 Rocco Berry
    5 Marcelo Montoya
    6 Te Maire Martin
    7 Shaun Johnson
    8 Addin Fonua-Blake
    9 Wayde Egan
    10 Mitch Barnett
    11 Tohu Harris
    12 Marata Niukore
    13 Jazz Tevaga
    14 Dylan Walker
    15 Josh Curran
    16 Bunty Afoa
    17 Bayley Sironen

    Other squad members: Brayden Wiliame, Freddy Lussick, Jackson Ford, Luke Metcalf, Edward Kosi, Otukinekina Kepu, Ronald Volkman, Taniela Otukolo, Tom Ale , Valingi Kepu, Viliami Vailea.

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