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Whether it’s the Wahs, Warriors or whatever you call them, the team have definitely earned themselves an unforgettable season.
A top four finish in the regular season and a trip to the playoffs this weekend, the Warriors are embracing their rise to the top one step at a time.
A date with defending champions this weekend in the first round of playoffs, head coach Andrew Webster will be looking to spoil the party for his former club.
Joining the Warriors at the start of the year, Webster’s made a dramatic impact with the team, helping the club to its first playoffs chance since 2018.
And it’s a result that he puts down to securing and forming strong relationships and bonds within the team from coaches to players.
“The depth we’ve got in each position is crucial for our success this season. Like when one player has gone down the next player has picked up and has gone with it. So just exciting to have as many players available as possible,” Webster says.
“The club’s worked hard to make sure all our depth can come and make sure to have quality performances.”
Such bonds have been reflected within the players including experienced team mates Shaun Johnson and Bunty Afoa.
Both Afoa and Johnson have been with the club and its systems over the years and have witnessed both the good and bad in terms of results.
“This is probably my second time playing in the finals. You know I’ve been in the years where we’ve had it tough and to finally see some success in the club it’s an awesome achievement,” Afoa says.
Johnson added, “ I wish I could’ve felt this feeling a whole heap more throughout my career. It’s hard when you slowly start to really chase games as you have seen other sides in the comp being put into that position.
“You need everything to go right, you need everything to be perfect and to fall into place and to be healthy and hitting your straps at the right time.”
The last time the Warriors made the playoffs round was in 2018 when they were knocked out in the first playoff round by the Panthers. With a chance to redeem themselves tonight, Webster and his team will be looking to sharpen up on simple areas to get the win.
“Yeah I think the reason why they’ve won is that they know each other’s game.and I know how reliable it is on how they trust each other. I think the thing when we haven’t performed as well is just the bond they have and the trust they have in their game they get themselves out of trouble.” Webster says.
Afoa echoed his coach’s thoughts and believes that it’s important every player knows their role in the team.
“Webby’s been telling us that it’s all the one percenters that count. You know, you can’t take your foot off the pedal because anyone can go down and any injuries in the game. And for us when everyone’s healthy, and a lot of boys are coming back strong, and for us just to play our best footy and rip in.”
Another major factor in the Warriors’ growth this season has been the strong support from faithful fans across the world.
Whether it’s been a home game in Auckland, or an away game in Australia, the support from fans regardless has been epic. It is something Warriors centre Adam Pompey is grateful for.
“Yeah it’s been amazing. You know the crowd here is unreal, they have a lot of signs probably for Dal (Watene-Zelezniak) though, but yeah it’s been really good. If we keep getting to come across week in and week out, you know it’s unreal man.”
With talks of a possible shift to Eden Park if the Warriors lose and return to New Zealand for a home final second-chance, Webster and his players have their preference.
“Probably Mt Smart. It’s the pinnacle of who the Warriors are, and it’s home for us. It’s good to be back at Mt Smart and trying to get the win for us,” Pompey says.
“I’m not a politics guy, I’ll play wherever they tell us to play,” ” Webster says.
“I’ve got a preference; you look at Mt Smart, it’s an unbelievable place. Players love it, and the fans love it. If you want Eden Park, I guess the good thing is that more New Zealanders get to watch us live.”