The best and worst moments from the emotional rollercoaster that was The Warriors 2023 season

The best and worst moments from the emotional rollercoaster that was The Warriors 2023 season

Cheating claims, viral fan songs and the catchphrase that took over the country, to name a few…

Thanks to the Brisbane Broncos (and a forward pass), the NZ Warriors franchise-evolving 2023 NRL season is over.

Coach Andrew Webster, star Shaun Johnson, captain Tohu Harris and the rest of the fellas became Aotearoa’s team as they flew to the NRL Finals for the first time since 2018.

With ‘Up The Wahs’ now being the official unofficial motto of the motu, we decided to look back at the season that was. 

All The Memorable Moments From the NZ Warriors 2023 Season

Historic Start

For the third time in franchise history, the Wahs opened their season with two wins. This was a big ol’ eff you, as many pre-season predictions had the team ending up as one of the NRL’s worst.  

They dropped their next two games and found themselves down 26 - 6 in the first half of their round five match against the Cronulla Sharks. Here, the Wahs season truly kicked off as the team put on a defining second half and won the match 32 - 30, the franchise’s second-biggest comeback ever. 

Shaun Johnson, minutes after slotting the winning goal, gave a memorable post-game interview that would end up describing the team’s whole season. 

“We’re so resilient bro,” he said. “I love being a part of it. It’s such a good feeling”. 

Napier Pitch Invaders

On the 27th of May, the Warriors played at Napier’s McLean Park for the first time ever. It was probably the city's last NRL game as that night a reported 26 fans invaded the pitch

Captain Tohu Harris said it was “annoying” as it ruined the momentum of the match. 

Months later, as the Wahs were set to play in Hamilton, coach Andrew Webster pleaded with fans in the Tron not to storm the pitch. 

"It's hard to create momentum when people are running on the field. At the end of the day, we want NRL teams to take games to all these towns forever."

Biased Refs

Almost as much as DWZ's luscious locks, the refs are a part of the Wah's 2023 saga. In May, the beef between the team's supporters and NRL officials made it to the KFC car park. 

Jason Paris, chief executive of One NZ, the team's leading sponsor, called out the NRL for a bias against the NZ Warriors. He went so far as to call it "cheating of the highest order". 

The NRL hit back, saying such claims are "unacceptable", "appalling", and even threatened legal action. 

In what some would call poetic justice, the referee whose Wahs fans were pointing fingers at was suspended just a week after Paris' Twitter tirade. 

‘Up The Wahs’ FEVER

On July 11, with the Warriors sitting at 6th on the table with 10 wins and 7 losses, members of the Facebook fan group ‘Warriors Anonymous' released the ‘Up The Wahs’ song.

It’s a parody of the Kiwi classic ‘How Bizzare’ by OMC but centred around the 2023 Wahs squad and the fan culture. It instantly went viral. 

As the season went on, ‘Up The Wahs’ became a part of every Kiwi’s daily dialogue. It even spread above and beyond the country. NBA coach Steve Kerr let it rip, as well as a plane load of Wahs faithful - including the pilot and flight attendants - screaming it constantly. 

With the wins continuing to pile on - including an SJ dropkick for the win against the Raiders - fans also learnt the team’s post-victory locker room song.

“We are the Power. We are the Speed. We are the spirit, that's all we f***kin need! Get out and shout, and say it ‘til the end, we are the WARRIORS 100 percent!”

Historic Final Hitout at Mount Smart

At their first home final in over a decade, the Warriors demolished the Knights 40 - 10 in front of a deafeningly passionate home crowd. The atmosphere at Go Media Stadium Mount Smart was unforgettable, with commentators, reporters and pundits calling it the best sports atmosphere they’ve witnessed. 

Shaun Johnson recognised this, strolling around the sidelines waving to the 26,000 fans who were now standing and applauding him. After the game finished everyone in attendance sang the post-victory song.

This fanfare led to the New York Times writing a piece on the team, pointing out that the country now backs the Wahs far more than they do the All Blacks. 

Loss To Broncos

The Wahs' season ended in Brisbane as they were outclassed by the Broncos. Fittingly, there was a refereeing controversy after a blatant forward pass (or two) went uncalled and killed all of the good guys’ momentum. 

Despite the ending, the Wahs’ season was undoubtedly a success because, as Johnson pointed out after the final loss, rugby league is now cemented in Aotearoa’s culture. 

"Rugby league is popping off right now," he said. 

What a season. What a team. Up The Wahs.