The key to Warriors' toughest challenge

Publish Date
Sunday, 31 March 2024, 10:25AM

By Michael Burgess

Be honest, be sincere, be compassionate.

That’s the approach of Warriors’ coach Andrew Webster in dealing with one of his biggest personal challenges this season: keeping everyone across his NRL squad happy.

The Warriors, who face Newcastle at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday, have impressive depth this season. In terms of quality and first-grade experience, it’s hard to remember a better all-around roster at the Auckland franchise over the past decade.

Centre Adam Pompey, who played every match in 2023 and was a consistent performer, gets his first chance on Sunday. Jazz Tevaga, who has 120 games for the club since 2016, impressed in Christchurch last week in his first outing of the year but couldn’t make the 17 for this match.

Te Maire Martin has grand final experience, seven tests for the Kiwis and featured in all three playoff matches last year but has been restricted to the NSW Cup so far. Chanel Harris-Tavita would be pushing for a starting halves spot at some other clubs but has been limited to two cameos at dummy half for a total of 20 minutes.

Winger Ed Kosi scored five tries in the first eight matches of 2023 but has only featured once since last May, while young centre Ali Leiataua is still waiting for another opportunity after an outstanding NRL debut in Canberra last June. Prop Tom Ale, who accumulated 19 matches last year, has managed only 38 minutes this year and will miss his second match of the season on Sunday.

The Warriors are a united bunch – who take a collective approach – but every individual is also ambitious and driven.

“I see it as our strength,” Webster told the Herald. “Competition breeds intensity at training, which is a really good thing and depth, when there are injuries, is a great thing. But good players aren’t going to play at some stages and how they handle that is going to be important.

“That’s the truth. There are injuries, there’s lack of form. Sometimes things are easy for you but I hope they all make it really hard for me to pick a team every match.”

But how will Webster deal with the tough conversations, as players with accomplished CVs are consigned to reserve grade, away from the limelight and in front of small crowds?

“I’ll just be myself,” said Webster. “Communicate and being honest is all I can do. I won’t be lying, I won’t be bullshitting, I won’t be telling them what I think they need to hear. I’ll be telling them the truth, communicate well, be myself, be sincere and be compassionate. That’s all I can do; I can’t do anything else.”

Continually pushing internal competition is one of Webster’s biggest mantras, along with his “winning starts on Monday” approach to preparation. He’ll be loyal – but has the leeway to make changes – unlike some of his predecessors at Mt Smart, where there was more of an obvious gulf between the best and the rest. Creating genuine selection jeopardy has been the hallmark of most great NRL teams, which the Warriors hope to become.

The Knights will be a good early-season barometer, after their impressive 14-12 win over the Melbourne Storm last weekend. But the Warriors have also been boosted after breaking their own duck, with a noticeable spring in the step at training this week, while the squad appreciated the longer turnaround after the physical battle in Christchurch.

Newcastle provided some of the biggest flashpoints of Webster’s first season. There was the gritty win in the opening game in Wellington, with a defensive resilience that would define the campaign. There was the disappointing away loss in round six, a week after the miraculous comeback against the Sharks in Cronulla, which Warriors’ staffers would privately concede was one of their poorest performances of the season.

Then there was the breakthrough finals win at Mt Smart, the undoubted high point of the season, as everything came together when it mattered most in the 40-10 triumph. The Warriors have yet to get close to that level, especially with their offensive game, but Webster is prepared to be patient.

“In the early rounds everyone is a bit like that at the moment,” said Webster. “At least we are creating stuff; now we have got to finish it and ice those opportunities. But I’d rather be creating and bombing them than not creating them at this stage… we’ll get better.”

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission

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