Home-again Warriors talking up NRL hopes

New Warriors coach Andrew Webster says the club bears little resemblance to the one he left six years ago, insisting it is now filled with winners.

On the eve of his senior coaching debut, Webster has upped the ante behind New Zealand's NRL club being one of 2023's big improvers.

Webster spent two seasons as an assistant in Auckland before finding his way to Penrith and working with Ivan Cleary as the Panthers secured back-to-back premierships.

On his return to New Zealand he has been given the same office as the one he occupied in 2016 - but says the energy is completely different.

"The last time I was here, everyone was happy to be here. They were happy to be in the NRL," he told Newstalk ZB.

"The whole feeling around the place was there wasn't really that competitive drive.

"But when I looked at the club coming back, I felt like they've recruited guys who just want to win.

"Mitch Barnett, Dylan Walker, Marata (Niukore) ... One of the most competitive guys is Te Maire Martin.

"These guys, they wanted to come here for the right reasons, not to come here for a pay check.

"And I was excited by that."

Webster credited the Warriors' off-field team with sparking an exciting recruitment drive.

"The difference between the club that I knew and the club now is the front office, the ambition from the top guys," he said.

Speaking at a fan day at Wellington's Sky Stadium - where the Warriors face off against Newcastle Knights on Friday night to start their season - chief executive Cameron George said the club's strategy was clear.

"The people we have here now want to be here," George said.

There is another big factor driving positivity around the Warriors: the return to a regular fixture after three COVID-plagued campaigns.

"Unless you went through it, you don't understand it," George said.

"Being shipped off (to Australia) and treated like just a temporary footy club - to be back home in our four walls with staff or players that want to be here, it really instils a sense of belief and confidence.

"We never got any of this in Australia because we're just the team that had to move there, there, there and there just to keep the competition going.

"So we're really appreciating this."

Alongside a new coach, the Warriors will have a much-changed side from the one that finished the 2022 season with a 27-26 loss to Gold Coast, a golden-point defeat that confirmed their worst-ever campaign.

Just four players remain in the run-on side from that afternoon, including captain Tohu Harris, with 32-year-old Shaun Johnson back fit after an injury-free pre-season.