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March 8, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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The Reverse Sweep

The Reverse Sweep

The 2010 NRL season kicks off this Friday, and it remains to be seen which Warriors side emerges from the sheds. 2009 was a major disappointment with the New Zealanders having started the season as one of the favourites—only for a mid-season slump to put an end to any realistic premiership aspirations. Add to this the fact that Kiwi teams are dominating the early phases of the Super 14, and it would appear that rugby league could have its work cut out to reel in on-the-fence New Zealand audiences.

Despite the recession causing a drop in fan numbers (so say rival codes), the NRL will not have the same troubles, according to boss David Gallop. Gallop would have been encouraged to no end by the excellent crowds turning up to trial matches last week. This included an unprecedented 17,000 at the Warriors-Manly trial in Auckland, as well as a record 27,221 for the Charity Shield match between St George Illawarra and South Sydney.

The Warriors have long been the Hurricanes of league, with often scintillating skill being hampered by erratic form. Until last year the club had become a force to be reckoned with, on the back of a solid pack and lightening backline. The only real weakness has been the inability to find a top-class halves pairing to control the game. This is where it will be hoped star half signing Brett Seymour can kick the Warriors into gear.

Seymour had his contract at the Cronulla Sharks terminated last season for behavioural issues (namely alcohol abuse), but is a natural talent, having racked up 101 NRL appearances, including 62 for the Brisbane Broncos, alongside the great Darren Lockyer. Seymour has also represented the Australian Schoolboys, and at just 25 should bring plenty of energy to go with his experience. Among coach Ivan Cleary’s most challenging decisions will be who partners Seymour in the halves—assuming the bad boy also proves his worth. Among the leading contenders are new 23-year-old signing James Maloney and incumbent Joel Moon, who will be unlikely to return to the centres following the imminent return of Brent Tate.

The return of Tate (the Warriors’ $300,000 man), as well as electrifying fullback Wade McKinnon, should give the Warriors back the experience and versatility lacking from last season. Add to this mix the power and speed of star winger Manu Vatuvei and the raw talent of 2009’s rookie of the year Kevin Locke, and the Warriors have the backbone of a formidable backline. Along with a solid pack combining youthful talent and big game experience, the Warriors have a strong lineup.

The Warriors start the season as $30 (TAB) outsiders for the premiership, with the Parramatta Eels and Melbourne Storm joint favourites at $6. However, the Eels have been very unimpressive in pre-season. This leaves the Storm as perhaps the side to beat, having just become the first Australian side to win the World Club Challenge twice, following a defeat of three-times defending Super League champions Leeds. However, history is against the Storm, and only 20 per cent of voters in a Yahoo!Xtra poll believe the Storm can go back-to-back again. Personally, I will be tuning into the NRL every week, and won’t be if my dark horse Warriors pick up their game to a title-challenging level.

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