sports 10: Manu Vatuvei
by Scott Moyes
The fact that Manu is at number 10 speaks dividends of how much everyone else in the team has stepped up to the mark this year. Manu used to be the only option they would have in attack. Although he spent much of the season on the sidelines with injuries, he has still maintained a healthy tryscoring strike rate and was influential in the team’s semi final victory over the Tigers.
9: Elijah Taylor
I’ve opened up my laptop, deleted the dismal sentences of an article that was supposed to be about netball and started afresh. It’s 12.23am (well, 1.23am if you count daylight savings). The heart is thumping and my supposedly new and improved Facebook newsfeed is buzzing; the New Zealand Warriors are in the NRL grand final for just the second time in their short history. By the time you read this, the deed will have been done. You’ll be sitting in a lecture on Monday morning either laughing at how much I got my hopes up, or hopefully smiling at a moment in history. I had intended to stay clear of rugby league for the rest of the year. But let’s be frank; there’s only so many superlatives you can find for the All Blacks drubbing a French B team. If the Warriors have won the grand final, they will have become just the second Kiwi franchise in history to win an Australian competition. If they haven’t, it’s not the end of the world. The club has exceeded everyone’s expectations by making it this far in the competition, and I shall take this opportunity to reflect on 10 players who have made the difference in 2011. This was a difficult one. I could have written a second list of players just as worthy. 10.
One of the many youngsters to step up this year. Taylor may not be flashy but he does everything asked of him and is remarkably mature for his age. After being a main fixture in the side for most of the year, he was unlucky to miss out playing against the Broncos in week one of the finals series.
5: Feliti Mateo Thankfully the star import has delivered the goods. Mateo had a slow start to the season after coming to the Warriors from Parramatta. However, Mateo has provided much needed creativity in the back row and learned when NOT to offload. Will feature in this team for years to come.
4: Kevin Locke A superstar in the making. When Glen Fisiiahi looked to have secured the fullback position earlier in the year, Locke grabbed his opportunity when injury struck and he has never looked back. His confidence and speed at fullback has been a vital in attack, and the difference between him and Lance Hohaia. Sign him up long-term please.
3: Shaun Johnson
What a meteoric rise to stardom. With everyone tipping the halfback as the In my opinion, the most improved next Benji Marshall or Stacey Jones, player in the squad this year. He I had my doubts. But Johnson has appeared to be out of favour at the handled the pressure of first grade and beginning of the season, but has seized finals football sublimely. He possesses his opportunity and cemented his place a tidy kicking game and is prepared to in the side. His running coming out chance his arm. Another player that from his team’s own half has been a needs to be signed up long-term. real asset to the team.
8: Bill Tupou
7: Jacob Lillyman Phil Gould summed it up perfectly in commentary against the Storm; Origin football changes some players. Jacob Lillyman has breathed life into his career by switching to the front row. His go-forward has provided the platform for the stars in his team to shine. A real top bloke.
6: Ben Matulino What more could you want in a forward? This guy has gone to another level this season. His impact off the bench has been keen to winning the grind; up there with the best props in the game. Put him down for a Kiwis’ jersey right now.
2: James Maloney
Probably not as physically talented as most in the team, but has shaped himself as the most influential. Finally the Warriors possess a half that can take control of a game. James Maloney is a fierce competitor and the best goal kicker at the club since Michael Witt. What a champion.
1: Simon Mannering There was criticism left, right and center when Mannering was handed the captaincy of the Warriors. But Simon has proven everyone wrong. Week in and week out he consistently makes ground and tackles, leading the team forward with his actions. It’s all the little things that Simon does that makes him one of the best footballers in the competition.
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