The logic behind the morbid fascination with the Warriors

It seems, at least these days, each Warriors season is a slow moving car crash. You know that things are going to be awful, but you can’t avert your gaze. It’s that second part that makes them such an outlier in New Zealand sport.

The Warriors after being defeated by the Storm last week.
Photo: Photosport Ltd

If you want any proof, just look at how many articles got written about them after their 70-10 Anzac Day hiding at the hands of the Storm on Monday.

Stuff and the NZ Herald combined for 13 pieces on the game and its fallout this week. In comparison, that’s about the same as the five Super Round games of Super Rugby put together. Even RNZ chimed in with a follow up piece to the standard game review, seeking out the opinion of former Kiwis coach Graham Lowe.

The result even created a mini-news cycle, with NZME’s D’Arcy Waldegrave firing back and explaining why the woeful Warriors would always have his support no matter what. As well as this, there was a reassuring look back at the club’s unbelievable ability to bounce back after copping thrashings over their history.

Because, let’s face it, when the Warriors run out against the Raiders on Saturday evening, we want to see if they can do that again. As Waldergrave says, “a true fan rides the wave with the club”, even if right now it feels like the weight of the entire Tasman Sea has come crashing down upon them. But there is more to it than just the blind loyalty of lifers like him, and it’s bigger than just the team itself.

The key advantage the NRL has over Super Rugby is that what happens on the field is just part of the overarching story. The key difference is that there is literally always something to talk about in relation to the rugby league competition, sometimes almost too much.

Monday’s result once again put pressure on Warriors coach Nathan Brown, who openly admitted that his players “gave up”.

Contrast that to Super Rugby, where the most notable coaching shift was Warren Gatland simply moving seats to a director of rugby role at the Chiefs, albeit after he’d guided them to a winless campaign. It’s almost impossible to conceive a Super coach being as forthright as Brown was, even though their job security is far more assured in comparison.

Warriors coach Nathan Brown at the post-match press conference following his side's golden point defeat to the Dragons at Central Coast Stadium, Gosford, NSW, Australia, Friday 2nd July 2021.

Warriors coach Nathan Brown.
Photo: Photosport Ltd 2021

It’s not just coaches, player movement is a key talking point. Positional acquisitions within the season are frequent and so are contract negotiations. It’s not all good, especially for the Warriors, as rumours swirl around whether certain players will stay beyond the current season. That makes for an atmosphere of unease, but it still generates headline after headline, no matter how poor a team’s performance is week by week.

There is nothing really comparable to this in Super Rugby. Established All Blacks simply don’t move teams, with the only notable exception being Beauden Barrett going to the Blues (which really had nothing to do with rugby anyway).

Really, there’s not much to talk about other than All Black selection implications, injuries and the monotonous debate over red cards, due in no small part to a serious lack of expertise when it comes to media relations as well.

It’s because of this compelling, if not somewhat exhaustive and highly American business-based, dual narrative feature that the NRL and therefore Warriors are able to effectively reset every season. This is where the (admittedly now highly ironic) ‘It’s Our Year’ catchphrase comes from, because there is enough that happens in the off season to give the casual fan at least some sort of tenuous logic to actually believe it.

It’s why, despite their lifelong history of underachievement, the Warriors will get a big crowd for their first game at Mt Smart in almost three years on 3 July, no matter what their results are between now and then. It’s why the NRL’s Magic Round will have an attendance of five times what Super Rugby’s inaugural version* did.

It’s also why, days on from the worst result in the club’s history, we’re still talking about the Warriors in great detail. For all the failure, the heartache and pain, you want to see what happens next.

* There are many reasons why it was a bit of a flop and not all of them are NZ Rugby or SANZAAR’s fault, to be fair. Covid forcing a date change from early March being the most prominent, but the governing bodies should probably have a good, hard look at the half-pie way they marketed it as well.

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