In an opening two months of the 2018 NRL premiership jam-packed with surprises, no team has defied expectations quite like the New Zealand Warriors. So is the club’s watershed start a flash in the pan, or will they go on with the job?

Inconsistent. Enigmas. Underachievers. The Warriors have frequently been branded with these tags during their past six finals-less campaign, failing to qualify for the top 8 since surging to a grand final appearance in 2011.

They headed into 2018 as $41 longshots to win the premiership, a hefty $3.80 to make the top 8, and as a popular tip to take out the wooden spoon at $9.

But after nine rounds, the Stephen Kearney-coached side is sailing along in outright second with a 7-2 record – equalling the Warriors’ best-ever start to a season…and their total win tally in a disastrous 2017 campaign.

There’s several reasons for the turnaround: big signings Tohu Harris, Blake Green and Adam Blair, among others, have all come up trumps; superstars Issac Luke, Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck are in career-best form; new strength and conditioning coach, the revered Alex Corvo, has transformed a soft squad into arguably the NRL’s fittest; several unheralded youngsters are performing out of sight; and they are playing a relentless, disciplined 80-minute style without being afraid to chance their arm on attack.

Quite simply, it’s all clicking for the Warriors – and punters are flocking to them.

The Auckland-based club have firmed to the fourth line of betting in the NRL 2018 premiership futures market at $11.

They’re also into just $1.20 to end their top 8 hiatus and $2.00 to snare a top 4 berth. But that price to finish in the all-important top 4 – giving them two bites at the finals cherry – shapes as a steal.

Even during their recent period of little success, the Warriors have flourished mid-season. From 2012-17, the Warriors have won more than two-thirds of their games during the Origin period.

The club rarely has more than one representative in State of Origin, while they regularly get to take on depleted or weary teams with a near full-strength line-up. This year, Green is the only Warrior realistically in contention – and even the in-form five-eighth would be considered a major Blues bolter.

Notoriously slow starters, the Warriors have come into rep period with a losing record in each of the last six seasons. But now, with a head-start on most of their rivals, the Warriors can really consolidate a top 4 spot over the next two months with a trademark mid-season tear.

The real test will be closing out the regular season, however. Since 2012, the club has won just eight of 43 games after the Origin period, including a pitiful three of 24 in the last four rounds.

But the 2018 version of the Warriors, boasting sky-high belief and incredible depth, seem be made of sterner stuff than their predecessors.

The Warriors’ metamorphosis is perfectly illustrated by the fact they go into their Round 10 clash with Sydney Roosters, third favourites for the NRL title at $7.50, as $1.82 favourites despite Shaun Johnson’s injury absence.

They already have a 30-6 thrashing of the Roosters in Sydney (again Mason Lino deputising for Johnson) under their belts and are the only team to have defeated the table-topping St George Illawarra Dragons.

After several seasons of pain, is 2018 the Warriors’ year? Maybe not – but they are going to be tough to squeeze out of the top four as they look to cash in on their inherent Origin period advantage.