2012 Warriors beaten black and Bluey

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:00 27/12/2012

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Fresh off an NRL Grand Final appearance in 2011, the Warriors had a confident vibe heading into the 2012 season.

Most of the heroes of the previous year remained and they had Brian McClennan, former Kiwis coach and a blue-collar hero of New Zealand league, at the helm.

Everything smelt rosy. Even maverick millionaire Owen Glenn got in on the act, buying into the club in early March, just in time for the season opener against the Sea Eagles at Eden Park. New Zealand's home of rugby was packed with leaguies - only for the Warriors to go down 26-20.

From there, the first half of the season wasn't that bad. There were good wins (a 44-22 round 7 thumping of the Rabbitohs) and bad losses (a 32-12 trashing by the Raiders in Canberra in round 6 but come round 13, the Warriors still sat in the top eight.

Glenn and co-owner Eric Watson even hosted a glitzy press conference at SkyCity casino, announcing their plans to make the Warriors the biggest sports club in Australasia, with a tonne of incoming investment.

From there it all unravelled. Excuses were everywhere: injuries to top-line players such as Sam Rapira, Simon Mannering, Manu Vatuvei, Jacob Lillyman and Jerome Ropati; McClennan's struggle to adapt to the NRL; and lack of form by star halves pairing James Maloney (who was off to the Roosters at the end of the season) and Shaun Johnson.

Whatever the reason, the season spiralled out of control following tight losses to the Broncos, Knights and Sea Eagles respectively in rounds 19-21. There were repeated assurances from club chief executive Wayne Scurrah that McClennan would remain until at least the end of the season. Cue an ugly loss to the Panthers (18-16 at Mt Smart Stadium in round 24) with two games left, and a likely rattling of the sabre from Glenn. Two days later, Bluey got the flick.

Assistant Tony Iro stepped in for the remainder of the season but couldn't help the team as they careened to a club-worst eight straight losses.

In their search for a new coach, the Warriors targeted the big names - the Storm's Craig Bellamy, the Sharks' Shane Flanagan and the Tigers' Tim Sheens - with big money.

They didn't get the bites they wanted and ended up with former Panthers and Raiders boss Matt Elliott, a man Glenn admitted he'd never heard of at the start of the season.

The club has built a team around Elliott in preparation for 2013, providing him with a lineup of lieutenants such as Kiwis legend Ruben Wiki, former Crusaders trainer Carl Jennings and new assistant Andrew McFadden.

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The Warriors-less NRL finals weren't as entertaining as they should have been, though the Storm-Bulldogs final was a cracker, with the boys from Melbourne taking a 14-4 victory. Earlier in the year, Queensland won its seventh straight State of Origin series 2-1 over New South Wales.

Heading into 2013, the NRL faces the issue of increasing the salary cap, with former player Israel Folau choosing to play rugby next year instead of signing with the Eels.

The NRL has signed a big, new billion-dollar broadcast deal this year and the debate on salaries will rage over the summer.

In the international game, the Kiwis were zero from two in their clashes against the Kangaroos. In April's absorbing Anzac test, New Zealand went down 20-12, before losing another close tussle 18-10 in Townsville in October.

As the international eligibility row roared on, the Kiwis were able to snare Auckland-born Bulldogs prop Sam Kasiano and Cowboys prospect Jason Taumalolo, though Cowboys big bopper James Tamou sided with Australia and Queensland.

The New Zealand Rugby League lost one of its greatest servants when chief executive Jim Doyle decided to resign but has signed savvy operator Phil Holden, a former Lion Foundation chief executive, to take his place. Meanwhile Iro, left the Warriors after missing out on the coach's job, and joined the NZRL in a high-performance role.

The buildup to next year's World Cup remains strong. Kiwis camps are planned in Sydney over the summer, and there will be three warm-up tests before the tournament kicks off next October.

Although Sonny Bill Williams hasn't said yes yet, there's every chance he'll be wearing a black jumper for New Zealand in England.

- Fairfax Media

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