The Northland Kauri's week-six game in Kaikohe has been relocated to Whangārei due to the potential financial risk to the Kaikohe Rugby Club.
Initially, Northland's senior women's rugby team were going to open their Farah Palmer Cup 2020 season at Lindvart Park in Kaikohe against the Taranaki Whio last weekend. However, due to the resurgence of Covid-19, the first two games of the season were pushed to the end of the season.
The game, to be played on October 11, was still set to take place in Kaikohe until a decision was made on Monday by the team's management group - without player consultation - to move it to Whangārei where it would be televised as part of a double-header with the Taniwha, who play Southland on the same day in the Mitre 10 Cup.
The decision was made in light of the resurgence of Covid-19, which could see the game played without spectators - putting Kaikohe Rugby Club at financial risk as the club would have received any earnings from spectator admission.
The Taniwha are set to play a Mitre 10 Cup game in Kaikohe on November 14. Northland Rugby Union chief executive Cameron Bell confirmed that game would still be played in Kaikohe, with or without fans, because Whangārei's Semenoff Stadium was unavailable that weekend due to redevelopment work being done.
For that game, Northland Rugby Union would receive any earnings from spectator admission.
New Zealand rugby star Portia Woodman, who had returned to her hometown of Kaikohe and would play for the Kauri this year, was gutted when the Northern Advocate informed her the game had been moved.
While she understood the benefits of televising the game, Woodman said she had been very excited about playing in front of whānau on home turf.
"I know for myself and the Kaikohe girls that we were really looking forward to hosting Taranaki in Kaikohe," she said.
"I think that was going to be the highlight that we were going to have our first game in Kaikohe, in the middle of Northland which would have been really cool to set off our season."
However, Woodman said the decision was one of many which had been made due to Covid-19.
"I think that's what this whole year's is going to be about, having to adapt and change what we wanted to do anyway."
Farah Palmer Cup campaign manager Josh Hyde was just as dismayed by the decision given the amount of work he and others had done to get the game in Kaikohe initially.
"It's gutting to take it away from Kaikohe, especially for the community and the Far North, but it's the sensible decision to take it to Whangārei," he said.
"Obviously it will be a decision that we probably will look back on if we are in alert level 1 and are allowed crowds, that was probably a missed opportunity but it's definitely not something we won't push in the future," he said.
Hyde, who was involved in the decision-making process, said the fast-paced nature of the decision meant appropriate consultation with players could not be done in time.
"In an ideal world we would have sat down and had a full consultation process with them, but also [head coach] Cheryl [Smith] was preparing the team to play and doesn't want the extra distractions."
Hyde explained that if there were no crowds, the game would need to be live-streamed through a media company, which could cost thousands of dollars - a cost which would be paid by the Kaikohe Rugby Club.
Bell said he was unaware of conversations around the cost of live-streaming and couldn't comment on whether the cost could have been paid, in part or in full, by the NRU. However, he did say the NRU's finances had been heavily restricted by Covid-19.
Kauri head coach Cheryl Smith, also heavily involved in the Kaikohe Rugby Club, chose not to comment.
Taranaki Rugby Football Union chief executive and former Northland College head boy Laurence Corlett had planned to travel north and watch the game in person.
While he acknowledged the loss for Kaikohe, Corlett said the Whio were excited to play the televised game.
"It's disappointing on a personal note, but from a player's perspective from our team, they are looking forward to the opportunity to play on TV," he said.
"I really understand the disappointment of the local community because I know a lot of them ... but from the team, I think they are really looking forward to it."