Rugby league: The key turning points in the Warriors’ 2021 NRL season

There were high hopes for the Warriors ahead of the 2021 season. Offseason recruit Addin Fonua Blake was a world-class prop – their first in years – capping a squad that looked the best assembled at the club since 2018. But they ended the year with only eight wins, one of the poorest returns in Warriors history. Michael Burgess reviews the turning points.

January 30: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck confirms rugby exit

While Tuivasa-Sheck planned to see out his final season, his decision to sign with New Zealand Rugby was a big blow for the Warriors, as the captain, best player and face of the club. It was the first sign that the season may not go to plan…

April 4: Addin Fonua-Bloke felled

Facing the Roosters at the Sydney Cricket Ground in round four, the marquee prop limped off with a serious knee injury in the 13th minute. The Warriors had enjoyed victories in two of their first three games with their new recruit but would only win three of their next nine matches without him.

April 9: Manly’s buzzer beater

The Sea Eagles were in a hole, depleted by injuries, including Tom Trbojevic, and on run of four straight losses to start the season. That winless streak should have been extended, as Manly made 16 errors in a messy, disjointed performance. But the Sea Eagles kept coming, while the Warriors couldn’t engineer anything in attack, and Daly Cherry-Evans nailed a streaky field goal with three seconds left. It meant the Warriors were already fighting history; only twice before had they made the finals after a 2-3 start to the season.

May 21: Return home cancelled

The plan to relocate to Auckland from late June was canned, after Covid clusters saw a snap border closure for travellers from NSW. The club had earmarked five Mt Smart matches in the second half of the season.

May 28: Missed chance for statement victory

If only. The Warriors led the Cowboys 28-22 with six minutes to play, only to concede a long-range try. With the scores tied, Chanel Harris-Tavita then missed a field goal attempt, before Valentine Holmes’ magnificent 40-metre snap in the 79th minute. The Warriors had earlier scored 22 unanswered points in a tremendous second-half comeback in Townsville. Ahead of a bye, this was an opportunity for back-to-back victories, but the manner of this defeat took wind out of their sails, and they didn’t win another game for more than two months.

June 25: Covid scare cuts squad

Josh Curran and Euan Aitken were forced to self isolate for 14 days after being on the same plane as a Covid infected flight attendant. Aitken was the club’s senior centre – with Peta Hiku injured – while Curran was becoming increasingly important, but both were scratched from crucial games against the Dragons and Sharks.

July 2: Dragons snatch improbable victory

When Nathan Brown reflects on the 2021 season, he will have recurring nightmares about this match, as the Warriors lost from a seemingly impregnable position, a defeat that left deep psychological scars. They looked home at 18-6 with 12 minutes to play but endured their worst finale of the season to invite St George-Illawarra back into the contest. Even then they had a chance to escape with a win, ahead and in possession with a minute to play, but a poor kick receipt led to a goal-line dropout, before Cody Ramsey crossed in the corner in the last second. Corey Norman then nailed an 88th minute field goal, before the Dragons celebrated with their infamous BBQ.

July 3: Townsend injury confirmed

Chad Townsend looked a vital mid-season pickup, a senior playmaker that could make a crucial difference. But those plans were ripped apart when he smashed his AC joint, in the first minute of his first game back, after a cynical late hit by Tariq Sims. Townsend would only complete three of the next nine games and never looked 100 per cent.

July 18: Tohu’s torment in Panthers defeat

Tohu Harris had been the Warriors’ best player in 2020, and again set an incredible standard this season. Across his first 13 games only three players in the NRL had managed more tackles than his average of 46, but a ruptured ACL ended his campaign in the round 18 clash. His leadership, experience and work rate were sorely missed in the final quarter of the season.

July 26: Covid outbreak prompts RTS exit

The departure of Tuivasa-Sheck, when the transtasman bubble closed, was a hammer blow. There was an initial bounce, with three straight wins after the skipper had left the nest, but his numerous qualities were desperately needed in the final three matches of the season. The loss of senior forward Leeson Ah Mau, who also returned home, increased the experience vacuum.

August 22: Finale falls flat in Suncorp thriller

The Warriors had set up a grandstand finish to the season, but a disjointed display against the Broncos ended an unlikely finals dream. The spotlight fell on Reece Walsh’s goal kicking – as the teenager landed one from five in the 24-22 defeat – but the difference was poor defence, as the Warriors couldn’t deal with Brisbane’s kicking game.

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