As the Warriors enter their 21st season, it certainly feels like they should have won an NRL title by now. They’ve been close, having made the big dance twice (2002 and 2011) along with the minor premiership in 2002, but have failed at the final hurdle.
But are these expectations unfair? There are plenty of excuses!
- It takes time for a franchise to build a winning formula, to set the framework for success. Back in 1995, when the Warriors began, league had nowhere near the following it has now, almost a minor sport in the NZ marketplace with limited exposure. Union was a hugely dominating big brother, and the appeal for top union players to come over to league was almost non-existent. Since then, league, and the NRL, has grown to the point (helped tremendously by the u20s competition being broadcast on live TV) where young rugby union stars find league an attractive proposition. Does this mean we can excuse the first 5-10 years of mediocrity? Put it down to growing the game? Maybe . . .
- There’s the often-talked about ‘travel factor’, and while it isn’t an excuse for everything, and the specifics have been discussed at length by many, it does deserve a mention.
- For a long time (and maybe still), the Warriors have struggled to attract the best Australian players. Understandably in many respects, it seems they don’t want to move to New Zealand to play their footy. Who wouldn’t want to be regularly running out onto Mt Smart in the pouring rain on an Auckland winter afternoon?! And while the Kiwis are the best team in the world right now (!!!), this hasn’t always been the case, so the Warriors have either had to try and recruit young players not getting a chance (Maloney behind Cronk, Townsend behind The Bubbler), older players near the end of their careers (Cleary, Wiki, Price), or massively over-pay for players who don’t deserve that price tag yet (Dane Nielsen).
But that’s enough of the excuses. Other teams have equally challenging problems, yet they seem to find a way to win. Or do they?
Of the 16 teams currently playing in the NRL, three teams (Roosters, Souths and the Bulldogs) entered the league before 1947, so I’m taking them out of consideration. I’m also ruling out the Tigers. Although they won quickly after the merger (formed 1999, won in 2005), both franchises were well-established before then and had won multiple titles.
Of the remaining teams, Manly and Parramatta joined in 1947, and 25 years passed before Manly won their first premiership. It took Parramatta 34 years.
In 1967, Cronulla and Penrith entered the comp. It took Penrith until 1991 (24 years) to lift the trophy, and Cronulla have yet to enjoy Mad Monday with premiership medals around their necks. Digging deeper into the history books, we find that it took until 1989 before a team won a title in their first 10 years. Canberra, who joined along with the Illawarra Steelers in 1982, only took 7 years before that Green Machine became a dominant force. Illawarra never won a title until they merged with St George and the Red V won in 2010.
Brisbane, Newcastle and the beginnings of the Gold Coast franchise, emerged in 1988, with mixed success. By 1992, Tina Turner was the voice of the NRL and Brisbane were the ones doing the dancing. Newcastle tasted victory in 1997, although some could argue that this was only the Super League. No Gold Coast side has yet won.
The Cowboys and Warriors joined in 1995. Both have never won. Melbourne started in 1998 and won in their second season, sealing the game with a penalty try, in what is surely one of the most controversial Grand Final moments.
So if my math serves me correctly, of the other 11 teams worthy of comparison, only 4 clubs (Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Newcastle) have won a title in less than 20 years. The Cowboys are possibly the best comparative case, as they joined at the exact same time as the Warriors. Both clubs have featured in the playoffs in only 7 seasons, and the Warriors have been runner-up twice, compared with the bovine ranchers’ solitary appearance.
And what about other sports?
The NZ cricket team took 26 years to win their first test match.
During the first 15 years of Super Rugby, only 4 franchises held the trophy aloft. In the last 4 seasons, that number has grown to 7, but that still leaves over half the teams without a title.
Out of the 17 current NBA teams that joined the league from 1967 onwards, only 4 have won NBA rings.
Three current NFL teams began in 1995 or more recently. None of these squads have soaked the coach in Gatorade.
And 7 NHL franchises have skated onto the scene since 1991, with only 1 (Anaheim Ducks) picking up the Stanley Cup. Plus, let’s remember that the Mighty Ducks are the only ones on that list to have had Emilio Estevez as a coach.
So cheer up, history is on our side. Isn’t it great to be a Warriors fan!
In fact, you could argue that the club as a whole has had great success, dominating the U20s competition (3-time winners and also runner-up once from just 7 years). Go the mighty Warriors!