For the Warriors simply making it to the starting line unsoiled by any kind of scandal or upheaval has created an atmosphere of hope and confidence at the club and amongst the fans and media that has not been seen for several years. In retrospect, it's clear that the psychological and competitive disadvantage of a points deduction at the 2006 season's outset was nigh on impossible to overcome. However, having come through that particular maelstrom, the players seem hardened and ready to prove themselves in the 2007 competition unrestrained by any handicap.
In a salary-cap era, the NRL that the Warriors compete in is becoming increasingly characterised by parity, and the early results are backing that up. This season is wide open with every game open to an upset - there are no longer games of Broncoes v Cowboys where the Broncoes pay $1.01 to win.
It may now truly be the case that a team of Rugby League stars simply cannot be maintained for a sufficient length of time for true dynasties to become established. The 2002-2004 Sydney Roosters are the only NRL team since 2000 to defy this logic, making three consecutive grand finals, but winning only one. This seems like an anomaly and questions exist about how that Roosters team managed to comply with the cap - but that's a subject for a separate post.
Of the four teams that made the grand final in 2004 (Roosters v Bulldogs) and 2005 (Tigers v Cowboys) none even managed to make the top eight the following year. Accordingly we will have to wait and see whether the same drop-off could happen for the 2006 grand finalists, the Storm and Broncos. Broncoes have now gone three rounds without a single win!
NRL parity is not something we should be complaining about - it is the natural and intended result of a salary-cap system and makes the NRL sustainable. NFL and NBA salary caps have the same effect. For the NRL, the English Super League and world Rugby Union acts like an overflow into which highly-paid players can eventually drop when their fame, talent and experience (read age) become too great for their salary demands to be satisfied by any NRL club. In this way, each NRL season a new crop of talented young league players get a shot in first-grade NRL competition and this keeps the NRL fresh and open. The salary cap has been increased for 2007 to A$4m.
A successful NRL club in compliance with the salary cap must be one formed with an eye to the future out of an ideal combination of young and improving players and established stars, together with a few "sleepers" - overlooked or underrated players who perform above their pay packet. At this moment the 2007 New Zealand Warriors look to be a club with just this sort of combination.
So with the balance of round three still to play the competition looks amazingly open - it is imaginable that virtually any permutation of the 16 teams could form the top eight who will go into the playoffs at the close of the regular season. With this in mind, the Warriors' opportunity to shine looks tantalising.
A big game this week - with a virtually unchanged Warriors side facing up to a Storm side at home that have won both their two opening games. Melbourne were 32-16 winners over wooden-spoon favourites the Raiders in Canberra last week and scraped through for an 18-16 win over Wests Tigers in Round 1. These results aren't that impressive however it looks like the margins of victory are going to be narrow this season. Go the 12 and under at the TAB. Anyway this weeks game is the true test - win this and the Warriors are contenders!