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Air raids and running games: Inside the Warriors' offensive overhaul

Long regarded as the sleeping giants of the NRL, the Warriors stirred briefly in 2018.

Then hit the snooze button once more.

Only the Dragons slid further in 2019 after playing finals footy the previous September, with the Warriors' tumble to 13th on the ladder frustrating plenty from the stands to the front office, and never more than on the paddock itself.

Six losses by less than seven points and late-season defensive blow-outs ultimately cost the New Zealand side any chance of a top-eight finish.

But throughout Stephen Kearney's three-year tenure, the Warriors are yet to truly unleash with ball-in-hand too, averaging less than 20 points a game across his 73 games at the club.

In years past the Warriors turned to the player market for a quick fix, swinging hard and more often than not hitting softly with its marquee signings.

In 2020, Kearney and an overhauled football department have instead returned to the drawing board, with plans to capitalise on NRL rule changes and a largely unheralded roster to break the typical Warriors mould.

Five key match-ups of the Warriors' 2020 draw

Expansion mode

Veteran half Blake Green has seen just about everything in almost 250 games on both sides of the globe.

From the inch-perfect structures of the Storm to the freewheeling ways of Super League, and plenty of Warriors outfits from the opposite side of halfway too.

The 2020 vintage will buck the "bash and barge" play associated with the club in years past, according to Green.

"Warriors teams, we haven't really been that as a club for a few years now," Green tells

"We probably can't really play that bash and barge style of footy looking to roll through teams.

"We're focusing on our skills and moving the ball a little bit. We've had a stack of reps into quick catch-passing and a lot of movement off the ball so far."

Movement off-the-ball is the key takeaway. Offloads for offloads sake don't translate into expansive, effective attack.

The 286 offloads that the Warriors threw (fourth in the NRL) didn't translate into finals footy last season, while the Rabbitohs (182), Roosters and Storm (191) scored points far more productively.

Where the Warriors failed to capitalise on their ball movement was in actually following it, their 103 support plays a game ranking them last in the competition.

"We've added a lot more speed elements and focused on repeat speeds," Green says, pointing to the influence of new head trainer Craig Twentyman, previously involved with the Wallabies and Australian rugby sevens.

"There's also been a lot more work with the footy than what we have done in previous pre-seasons, those repeat speeds are aimed at following the ball more."

Sticking the boot in

Both Warriors wingers David Fusitu'a and Ken Maumalo stand at around 190 centimetres and leap tall buildings for fun.

Which Green concedes makes it all the stranger that the Warriors scored just 11 tries from kicks last year – the fewest of any club – while conceding among the most.

Significantly the NRL announced in December that no player can be tackled in mid-air, regardless of whether they are attacking or defending a kick.

"When David jumps in the air, he's an absolute acrobat but he was getting tackled in the air and bashed around a fair bit, so hopefully he can get back to that under the new rule," Green says.

"I think that because our guys are pretty big they attracted a lot of attention in the air, with a lot of traffic, escorting and blocking.

"We've had guys come in and do kick-catch stuff and I think the rule change will have a big effect on how often we go to the air."

Champion halfback and Warriors staffer Stacey Jones is a handy sounding board for playmakers and flyers alike.

So too AFL consults across the ditch.

"We interact a bit with AFL coaches over in Melbourne," Green says.

"Footage gets sent over and we get feedback on how we're striking the ball and any tweaks we need, we're tapping into a few different areas on that."

Sixes and sevens

How Stephen Kearney splits his playmakers is as intriguing a subplot as any in the Warriors season, with Kodi Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita vying to partner Green at the scrumbase.

Trial form against Melbourne and Wests Tigers may yet dictate who lands the No.6 jumper, with Kearney saying two weeks ago that "one week it's Chanel and the next it's Kodi".

Harris-Tavita is understood to be one of the club's pre-season standouts and is said to be thriving with added responsibility over the summer.

His emergence saw mid-season recruit Nikorima finish last year as a bench utility, where he also played for the Kiwis against Great Britain.

Plenty, including Nikorima's old Broncos coaching staff, see a bench role as his best fit.

To date that's yet to be replicated at Warriors training, but Kearney's playmakers are sitting in with hooking consultant Nathan Brown to keep selection options open.

Warriors' top five tries of 2019

"Kodi did jump in there at hooker at times, and I think he played a bit of hooker for the Kiwis too at the end of last year," Green says.

"At this stage of the pre-season he's only been in the halves though.

"We jump into the hooker meetings and drills that Browny does anyway so we can all get on the same page as playmakers.   

"They've both been training really well, we've got a number of halves jumping in around there so I guess it all comes down to how we perform in the trial games.

"We've got Adam Keighran, Paul Turner and Hayze Perham too as young guys pushing through and improving day-to-day.

"Compare what they're doing now to even before Christmas, they're making big improvements."

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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