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Addin Fonua-Blake knows a star-studded team sheet doesn't count for much in the heat of battle.

The prop is among several Warriors recruits, including Ben Murdoch-Masila, Bayley Sironen and Kane Evans, who will combine to form one of the Telstra Premiership's strongest packs.

On paper, at least.

Evans wasn't picked for Saturday's opening round in Gosford due to a lack of training, but the likes of Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Leeson Ah Mau, Eliesa Katoa and Bunty Afoa will be locking horns with the Titans.

"We've got a lot of size and mobility," Fonua-Blake told

"On paper, we have a really good team and a really good forward pack, but I've played in some sides where we've had an outstanding team on paper but it doesn't transfer onto the field.

Defy Impossible: The try savers

"We're not getting too far ahead of ourselves as a team. We know the benchmark - the Roosters, Souths, Melbourne and Panthers ... We want to get our name up there."

After narrowly missing the finals last year, the Warriors are banking on the aggressive Fonua-Blake to stamp his dominance.

The former Sea Eagle believes he can rise to another level - a scary thought for opponents given the 25-year-old was voted the game's best front-rower by his peers in's 2020 player poll.

"That's one of my personal goals, to outdo what I did the year before. Hopefully, this year I can take another step," he said.

Defy impossible: The leap

"I felt like last year I was limited in my opportunities. I played a few good games but injury plagued my season."

Perhaps the forgotten man of their pack is Ah Mau, who played two matches in 2020 before suffering a pectoral injury. He could have returned for the last round but would've needed to quarantine for two weeks after flying from New Zealand.

Ah Mau, 31, established himself in the Kiwi Test team from 2018-19 and the prop will be a valuable asset if he can recapture that form.

"It's a forward pack where everyone has got their own strengths. There are some big boys, so if we can play as a pack and build that momentum for the team, I think we can do some good stuff," Ah Mau said.

Having watched much of the Warriors' 2020 campaign from afar, with the squad staying on the NSW Central Coast - as they will until at least June 21 this year - due to COVID-19 restrictions, Ah Mau said he felt the tight-knit connection when he rejoined the group.

While the Warriors have the NRL's heaviest roster, including the 110kg-plus Fonua-Blake, Evans and Murdoch-Masila, they aren't concerned about the game's frenetic pace after the rule changes.

Warriors prop Leeson Ah Mau.
Warriors prop Leeson Ah Mau. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

"We've got a lot of big boys in our team and everyone's really good on their feet, very skilful with the ball in hand," Fonua-Blake said.

"I think it's about getting the right balance between not dropping the ball and not making it hard on ourselves so we can come up the other end and show our talent with the ball."

Coach Nathan Brown said on Wednesday that he didn't think any teams would be "overly shocked" by the impact of the new rules.

"I'm sure we all learnt something from the [trial] experience of it, but we'd like to think we were putting things in place to help suit the new rules a little bit, as I'm sure every club was," Brown said.

"Last year, the change happened in the COVID break so clubs, one, didn't know how it was going to unfold, and two, didn't have the time to really prepare for it, whereas we've had the time [this year] to prepare for a bit of a quicker game."

Brown admitted his players weren't surprised about having to extend their stay in Australia because of travel restrictions despite originally planning to return home in early April.

He said the prospect of loaning players had not been discussed.

"There are only one or two families at the moment who aren't here but will be coming soon," Brown said, adding that he doesn't envision players requesting to return to New Zealand like last year.

"Once all that happens and the kids are in school or in daycare, the partners have got their lives sorted - we're staying in a really nice location and they've all settled in really well at the minute.

"That could change through a family illness, that's a part of life whether we're living in New Zealand or here, so we'll deal with that if it happens. But I'm not foreseeing any problems in the near future."

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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