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Year 23. Another new chapter. Another minor clean out of the playing roster. Another new coach (although to change it up we’re also keeping the old coach). Another year of pundits predicting another rollercoaster season ending in yet more disappointment, and they’ll most likely be right. The most important thing for this team, this club, is to start the season with wins. That will be nigh-on impossible as the Warriors never win in the early rounds but nevertheless - just win baby.
That winning begins next Sunday when the Warriors face the broke Newcastle Knights, who are probably travelling to NZ in a large container aboard a flag-of-convenience ship just to save money.

Kia ora: Kieran Foran (Eels)
Ka kite ano: Thomas Leuluai (Wigan), Raymond Faitala-Mariner (Bulldogs), Shaun Lane (Manly), Jonathan Wright (Manly), Jeff Robson (Eels), Ali Lauititi (retired), Ben Henry (retired)

Incumbent: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Challengers: David Fusitua, Tui Lolohea

Despite a knee injury keeping Roger Tuivasa-Sheck out for most of the 2016 season, Roger the Dodger will return not only as the starter but as captain too. The new role means he gets to argue with the refs and do all the media/promotional work while vice-captain Simon Mannering leads the team.
David Fusitua will be the back-up fullback after his break-out season last year in the absence of RTS. Tui Lolohea had moments of brilliance at fullback last season as well, but also moments of awfulness. Will need to work on his courage under the high-ball and when facing pressure from rushing defenders.

Incumbents: Tui Lolohea, Manu Vatuvei
Challengers: David Fusitua, Ken Maumalo

Both wing positions are up for grabs in 2017. Manu Vatuvei has been a club favourite for more than a decade now, but last year was a struggle and Stephen Kearney wasn’t afraid to tell regulars in the Kiwis squad that they were out of the loop. Tui Lolohea is a utility by name but appears to be best suited on the wing, especially when paired with Blake Ayshford. A place in this side will be needed for David Fusitua and wing is his next best position if he can’t play fullback. Ken Maumalo is the only other serious option for Kearney but it is well known that Big Ken wants guaranteed playing time. I predict a mid-season move for him if there are zero injuries.

Incumbents: Solomone Kata, Blake Ayshford
Challengers: Tui Lolohea, David Fusitua, Ken Maumalo, Matt Allwood, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad

Solomone Kata went from a much-maligned player in 2015 to a superstar in 2016. Kata worked hard on his defensive game and was explosive on attack, so expect his progression to continue. Blake Ayshford may not be the flashiest name on this list but he provides a veteran presence and, more importantly, had excellent chemistry with Tui Lolohea who is expected to be on the wing again. David Fusitua is projected by most NRL pundits to be starting at centre for round one - but only if there isn’t a wing spot available. Ken Maumalo, depsite having serious defensive flaws, will contend for the centre position too while Matt Allwood will spend most of his season in the NSW Cup. Utility Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad did make the 2016 NSW Cup Team of the Year as a centre and could be in with a chance if others struggle.

Incumbent: vacant
Challengers: Kieran Foran, Ata Hingano, Tui Lolohea

It was the risky move of the off-season but could be a steal of a deal for the Warriors. With Thomas Leuluai returning to SuperLeague to conclude his career, the Warriors signed the at-the-time-unregistered Kieran Foran. Foran had a worse 2016 than the United States of America with a bombed relationship, gambling issues, dodgy friendships and mental illness that resulted in an attempted suicide. Even if Foran struggles on the field - he is allowed to return to the NRL in round three - this one-year contract will still be a success if the Warriors can get Foran’s off-the-field issues sorted out. That will be a struggle early on, as it seems the Sydney media have been given orders to gun for Foran. Highly touted prospect Ata Hingano will start the first two games of the season, if the pre-season is anything to go by, while Tui Lolohea’s dream of starting in the halves appears to have ended.

Incumbent: Shaun Johnson
Challengers: Kieran Foran, Nathaniel Roache, Ata Hingano, Tui Lolohea, Mason Lino

Can Shaun Johnson progress as a halfback or is this it? Is this as good as he can be? If that is the case it might be time to try SJ in the second-receiver role and move Kieran Foran into halfback though I doubt we’ll see that happen. Nathaniel Roache, Ata Hingano, Tui Lolohea and Mason Lino all provide depth.

Incumbent: Simon Mannering
Challengers: Bodene Thompson, Albert Vete, Toafofoa Sipley, Charlie Gubb, Ligi Sao, Jazz Tevaga

Simon Mannering was superb at lock last season, finishing second in tackles with 1042 (Jake Friend was first with 1279). But Stephen Kearney has traditionally played Mannering in the secondrow for the Kiwis, where he can shut down either the left or right edge, while opting for a wrecking ball at the back of the pack. Albert Vete, Toafofoa Sipley, Charlie Gubb or Ligi Sao fit that description and it should be expected that Kearney will try this at some point in the season. If Mannering plays in the secondrow, Bodene Thompson could move to the 13 jersey allowing him to work more closely with SJ since the two make a productive attacking tandem. Jazz Tevaga is an old school hooker/lock player who will provide cover for the lock position off the bench.

Incumbents: Ryan Hoffman, Bodene Thompson
Challengers: Simon Mannering, Ligi Sao, Bunty Afoa, Toafofoa Sipley, Jazz Tevaga

Ryan Hoffman has been stripped of the captaincy and, with Tohu Harris coming to Mt Smart in 2018, is playing for his career. If healthy, expect the Hoff to be one of the Warriors’ best players this season. In his two years at the club, Bodene Thompson has followed the same trend - strong start to the season both offensively and defensively, only to fade once July rolls around. If Bodene wants to make the Kiwis World Cup squad, he’ll need to maintain his performance for the whole season. Simon Mannering will be wearing a jersey with either 11, 12 or 13 on the back while Ligi Sao will be hoping to get any number on his back. Bunty Afoa is the only other genuine secondrower on the roster and should see a couple of games this season while Toafofoa Sipley, who had a promising debut against St George last year, is yet another prop who could see time in the backrow due to the long queue in the frontrow. Hooker Jazz Tevaga started his young career in the secondrow and could earn some gametime there as well.

Incumbents: Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman
Challengers: Charlie Gubb, Sam Lisone, Albert Vete, James Gavet, Toafofoa Sipley, Isaiah Papalii

When it comes to the frontrow the Warriors have the quantity but do they actually have the quality? Over recent seasons there has been serious questions about the defensive attitude of the whole team with the edge defence taking a lot of flack. The edge defence improved last year, largely to the improvements of players like Solomone Kata and David Fusitua, but the problem still existed in the middle. The Warriors big men struggled to make simple tackles and could not get any go-forward with the ball. Rugby league is a simple sport where dominating the middle of the field will give your team huge momentum over the 80 minutes - YUUUGGGEE. Despite having elite props in Ben Matulino and Jacob Lillyman, the rest of the bunch have been mediocre at best. Charlie Gubb offers energy but lacks talent, Sam Lisone offers aggression but lacks smarts, Albert Vete offers smarts but lacks aggression, James Gavet is still - at the age of 27 - a diamond in the rough, while Toafofoa Sipley and Isaiah Papalii are both greener than Kermit the Frog. If Kearney gets the best out of the big boppers, and figures out a good rotation, the Warriors will be in the playoffs. If not, the Warriors will miss the big dance yet again.

Incumbent: Isaac Luke
Challengers: Nathaniel Roache, Jazz Tevaga, Erin Clark

Speaking of the struggles up front, Isaac Luke didn’t help the cause by being a little fat Maori last year. He appears to be in shape this preseason and an energetic Luke is vital to the Warriors controlling momentum in a game. Nathaniel Roache grew more confident with every game last season (he played seven) but Jazz Tevaga will be Luke’s backup due to his tenacious defending and strong dummyhalf running (although Jazz’s passing skills need to be upgraded quickly). Erin Clark will star for the NSW Cup team in 2017.

Sneakdefreak’s best 17:

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck © 2. Tui Lolohea 3. Blake Ayshford 4. Solomone Kata 5. David Fusitua 6. Kieran Foran 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Jacob Lillyman 9. Issac Luke 10. Ben Matulino 11. Simon Mannering 12. Ryan Hoffman 13. Bodene Thompson
Bench: 14. Jazz Tevaga 15. Sam Lisone 16. Albert Vete 17. Toafofoa Sipley 18th man: James Gavet

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Rebels v Blues
Melbourne 23-Feb 9:45 PM

1 Cruze Ah-Nau, 2 Pat Leafa, 3 Laurie Weeks, 4 Steve Cummins, 5 Lopeti Timani, 6 Jordy Reid, 7 Colby Fainga'a, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 11 Tom English, 12 Reece Hodge, 13 Mitch Inman, 14 Jack Maddocks, 15 Jack Debreczeni
Reserves: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Tom Moloney, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Sione Tuipulotu, 23 Jonah Placid

Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane, Piers Francis, Melani Nanai, Ihaia West, Augustine Pulu; Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson, Steven Luatua, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Jimmu Tupou (capt), Sione Mafileo, Matt Moulds, Pauliasi Manu
Reserves: Hame Faiva, Sam Prattley, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Scrafton, Murphy Taramai, Sam Nock, George Moala, Rene Ranger

Highlanders v Chiefs
Dunedin 24 Feb 7:35 PM

Ben Smith (c), Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Rob Thompson, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Liam Squire, James Lentjes, Gareth Evans, Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown
Reserves: Adrian Smith, Craig Millar, Guy Millar, Jackson Hemopo, Elliot Dixon, Kayne Hammington, Fletcher Smith, Matt Faddes

Damian McKenzie, Toni Pulu, Anton Lienert-Brown, Johnny Faauli, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow; Liam Messam, Mitchell Karpik, Taleni Seu, Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird, Nepo Laulala, Hika Elliot, Kane Hames
Reserves: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Atu Moli, Mitchell Brown, Lachlan Boshier, Jonathan Taumateine, Tim Nanai-Williams, Shaun Stevenson

Reds v Sharks
Brisbane 24 Feb 10:00 PM

15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Adam Korczyk, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper (captain)
Reserves: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Markus Vanzati, 18 Sef Fa’agase, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Jake McIntyre, 23 Izaia Perese

15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie (captain), 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Reserves: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Michael Claasens, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Clement Poitrenaud

Sunwolves v Hurricanes
Tokyo 25 Feb 5:15 PM

15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Takaaki Nakazuru, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Hikaru Tamura, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Willem Britz, 7 Edward Quirk, 6 Malgene Ilaua, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Heiichiro Ito, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami
Reserves: 16 Takeshi Hino, 17 Koki Yamamoto, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Kotaro Yatabe, 20 Shokei Kin, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Ryohei Yamanaka, 23 Shota Emi

Jordie Barrett, Cory Jane, Matt Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea, Otere Black, TJ Perenara (c), Blade Thomson, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Michael Fatialofa, James Blackwell, Jeff To'omaga-Allen, Ricky Riccitelli, Chris Eves
Reserves: Dane Coles, Ben May, Mike Kainga, Reed Prinsep, Callum Gibbins, Chris Smylie, Beauden Barrett, Vince Aso

Crusaders v Brumbies
Christchurch 25 Feb 7:35 PM

1 Nic Mayhew, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 4 Rory Arnold, 5 Sam Carter, 6 Scott Fardy, 7 Chris Alcock, 8 Jordan Smiler
9 Joe Powell, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 11 James Dargaville, 12 Kyle Godwin, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 14 Henry Speight, 15 Aidan Toua
Reserves: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 De Wet Roos, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Isaac Thompson

1 Joe Moody, 2 Ben Funnell, 3 Owen Franks, 4 Scott Barrett, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 6 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (vc), 8 Whetu Douglas, 9 Bryn Hall, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 11 George Bridge, 12 Ryan Crotty (vc), 13 Jack Goodhue, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 15 Israel Dagg
Reserves: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Ereatari Enari, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 David Havili

Waratahs v Force
Sydney 25 Feb 9:45 PM

15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Tom Robertson
Reserves: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 David Lolohea, 19 David McDuling, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro

15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Bill Meakes, 11 Chance Peni, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Heath Tessmann (c), 1 Pek Cowan
Reserves: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Isireli Naisarani, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Ian Prior, 23 Alex Newsome

Cheetahs v Lions
Bloemfontein 26 Feb 2:05 AM

15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Nico Lee, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Charles Marais
Reserves: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Ox Nche, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Ryno Benjamin

15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Howard Mnisi, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Reserves: 16 Akker vd Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Harold Vorster, 23 Jaco van der Walt

Kings v Jaguares
Port Elizabeth 26 Feb 4:15 AM

15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Makazole Mapimpi, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Waylon Murray, 11 Malcolm Jaer, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Ruan Lerm, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Mzwanele Zito, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk Ferreira (c)
Reserves: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Chris Heiberg, 19 Tyler Paul, 20 Chris Cloete, 21 Rudi van Rooyen, 22 Masixole ‘Coyi’ Banda, 23 Luzuko Vulindlu

15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Matías Orlando, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Santiago Cordero, 10 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Pablo Matera, 6 Tomás Lezana, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Felipe Arregui, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Lucas Noguera Paz
Reserves: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Cristian Bartoloni, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Rodrigo Báez, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Santiago González Iglesias, 23 Ramiro Moyano

Stormers v Bulls
Cape Town 26 Feb 6:30 AM

15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Siya Kolisi (c), 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth (vc), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg
Reserves: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Dewaldt Duvenage, 22 Dan Kriel, 23 Rob du Preez

15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Travis Ismaiel, 10 Handre Pollard(c), 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Nick de Jager, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Reserves: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 Lizo Gqoboka, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Warrick Gelant

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It's that time of the year again. I know you've all been waiting for it!!

The 12th (Usually*) Annual The Silver Fern Dot Com Team of the Year !!

yay! yay!

Nomination threads are set up in the TSF Competitions Forum http://www.thesilverfern.com/category/8/tsf-competitions coz I don't know where the Team of the Year forum went.

Rules are pretty much the same as usual:

  1. Nominate players by position. Include your reasons for doing so. Only in the odd minority of cases will nominations be accepted without supporting argument (i.e., Beauden Barrett).

  2. This is your opportunity to argue against other nominations as well. Feel free to pile in.

  3. Nominated players must have played at least one test match this year. Regardless of that form in competitions below international level is still admissible as evidence in support of a nominee.

  4. The Judging Committee (me) reserves the right to accept, reject or laugh hysterically at any or all nominations.

  5. Any situation not covered by the above rules will be dealt with by making up further rules on the spot.

A full* list of TSF ToTYs since 2005 follows (edit: in a later post ... this one takes up too much room).

  • except for 2014 which inexplicably I did not summarise and publish. D'oh.
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Australia batting first...for a change.

Finch gone cheaply (Boult got him).

Smith and Warner at the crease. This could get ugly - again.

Nicholls is in for Neesham who is still recovering from the Starc ball he copped on the forearm, and Ferguson is in for Henry.

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That time of year where it's a bit of fun to throw around ideas on the hypothetical World XV.

Paul Cully of Sydney Morning Herald gives a fairly decent attempt, with some good explanations too. As always there are areas of debate, for example I think Pocock at 7 and Read at 8 are a bit lucky.

As an aside - most of the players below (and fringe players mentioned in the article) will be involved in the Lions v All Blacks series - exciting times.

  1. Jack McGrath (Ireland)
  2. Dane Coles (New Zealand)
  3. Owen Franks (New Zealand)
  4. Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)
  5. Maro Itoje (England)
  6. Chris Robshaw (England)
  7. David Pocock (Australia)
  8. Kieran Read (New Zealand)
  9. Conor Murray (Ireland)
  10. Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)
  11. Liam Williams (Wales)
  12. Owen Farrell (England)
  13. Jonathan Joseph (England).
  14. Israel Dagg (New Zealand)
  15. Ben Smith (New Zealand)

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