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Warriors named finalists for Halberg Awards

Following their unforgettable comeback season, the One New Zealand Warriors have been named as finalists in the Team of the Year category for the 61st ISPS Handa Halberg Awards.

They're included alongside the All Blacks, women’s K4 500m world champion canoe racing team, the Black Fern Sevens and All Black Sevens.

While the One New Zealand Warriors made the team category, halfback Shaun Johnson missed out on a spot among the Sportsman of the Year finalists despite his exceptional season.

Andrew Webster was ineligible for the Coach of the Year which stipulates only New Zealand-born coaches can be considered.

One New Zealand Warriors CEO Cameron George said the recognition added further lustre to the club's outstanding 2023 season.

“It’s an honour to be recognised along side these incredible teams, but more than anything it’s a fitting acknowledgment to our fans for making 2023 what it was for this club, certainly a special chapter in New Zealand sport’s history,” he said.

This year’s finalists, voted by a panel of former elite athletes and coaches, sports administrators and sports media came from 76 nominations received from national sports organisations and an independent nominations board for achievements in 2023.

The winners will be unveiled at the Halberg Awards dinner at Spark Arena, Auckland, on Wednesday, February 14.

During the evening Sport New Zealand’s Leadership Award and New Zealand’s Favourite Sporting Moment will also be crowned. The Awards will be broadcast live on Sky Sport and free-to-air on Sky Open from 8pm.

The One New Zealand Warriors completed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sport, coming within one win of making the 2023 NRL grand final just 12 months after the worst season in their history when they finished second to last in 2022, narrowly avoiding the wooden spoon.

For three years, the team was forced to be based in Australia due to the impact of the Covid pandemic.

The burden of being away from their home, family and fans was palpable as the Warriors reached their nadir in 2022.

It resulted in major changes for their homecoming season in 2023, including a rookie head coach in Webster and a collection of new signings.

Many pundits had the Warriors tagged to finish last in 2023 but, instead, Webster led an inspirational comeback which had the effect of galvanising the country and creating an unrivalled fervour for the team. Indeed, the Warriors were New Zealand’s most popular team in 2023, providing the feelgood story of the year.

Six home games were sold out, a feat not achieved since the club’s debut season in 1995, and, for the first time in the club’s history, total home and away crowds topped 500,000.

The Warriors had been in the finals only once (in 2018) since 2011 and hadn’t finished in the top four since 2007 but, as a return to the playoffs began to firm, a mania evolved giving birth to the ‘Go the Wahs’ catch cry.

It was heard everywhere, even in Parliament, as New Zealanders around the globe latched onto it including many New Zealand sporting teams and athletes, the All Blacks, Black Caps and more among them.

Fortified by the support, the One New Zealand Warriors snared a top four spot and the club’s first home final in 15 years when they eliminated Newcastle 40-10 in front of their biggest home crowd of the year to reach the preliminary finals for the first time in 12 years.

There the run ended but the season was one of New Zealand sport’s most memorable and thrilling on all counts.

At the NRL’s annual Dally M Awards, Webster was named the Coach of the Year while Johnson was poised to win the Dally M Player of the Year only to be headed by one vote in the final round of counting. Johnson, the Dally M Halfback of the Year, was joined by teammates Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Winger of the Year) and Addin Fonua-Blake (Prop of the Year) in the overall Dally M Team of the Year. Tohu Harris was one of three finalists for Captain of the Year and Lock of the Year as was Wayde Egan for Hooker of the Year. Johnson was named The Players’ Champion, voted on by fellow players throughout the competition (the Rugby League Players’ Association’s premier accolade) while he was also named in the RLPA Dream Team along with Watene-Zelezniak and Fonua-Blake.

One New Zealand Warriors players were among the NRL’s leading performers in a range of statistical categories.

Johnson led all players in the competition for the most try assists (29), most line break involvements (20), most kick metres (13,091), most kicks (418) and most attacking kicks (206). He complemented this with the best defensive contribution of his career making more tackles than he had any other season (455) and achieving his highest effective tackle per centage (91%).

Watene-Zelezniak set a club record for most tries in a season with 24, second equal among all players just one off the top. Fonua-Blake was first for most post-contact metres (1670), third for most metres gained (4453) and fifth for most total runs (435). Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (489) and Marcelo Montoya (451) were second and third for most total runs and were also in the top 10 for most metres gained.

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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