COMMENT:

When the Warriors opened the NRL season with five straight wins and the fans flocked to Mt Smart Stadium, there was at least one unsatisfied voice in the stands.

"WHERE DID ALL THESE 'FANS' COME FROM?" asked the sign held aloft by a supporter sporting a jersey from the Warriors' inaugural season, a sartorial choice surely meant to emphasise the point.

And although the crowds have waned since those heady days, with attendance mirroring the team's fluctuating fortunes, that fan will likely be asking the same question should the Warriors next week scrap their way into a lofty enough ladder position to host a playoff game.

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This, after a finals-clinching victory over the Panthers, is a time for celebration. But with the bandwagon warming its engines, it's also time to ask some questions.

Namely, what to make of fair-weather fans? Should they be the subject of scorn, the target of taunting handmade signs, or welcomed warmly into the fold?

Some Warriors season-ticket holders may favour a cold-shouldered approach, which is entirely their prerogative.

Those loyal fans deserve more than anyone the post-season adventure that is about to unfold.

But as far as this utterly disloyal 'fan' is concerned ... climb aboard, everyone, we're going to the finals!

Sport is supposed to be about fun and bandwagons certainly tick that box. After all, there's little more enjoyable than sharing a passion with thousands of strangers, the common cause uniting those who would otherwise have nothing in common.

Conversely, there's nothing fun about treating fandom like a loyalty card from a coffee shop, with the sweet treats available exclusively to the regulars.

And, in any case, loyalty in sport is overrated. That's something a supporter learns the first time their favourite player leaves behind a team to chase glory in pastures new, and something a player learns the first time they experience a dip in form and start to hear all about it from those who once sang their name.

And loyalty is an especially errant concept when it comes to the bandwagon, as Roger Tuivasa-Sheck explained earlier in the season.

"I know there are a lot of loyal fans out there who are disappointed, you can't blame them," the captain said in April.

"But [the new fans] are loving how we're going, they're supporting us and it's only a good thing to get their support. So thank you for jumping on board."

Tuivasa-Sheck is right on all counts, even the part about the die-hards' disappointment being understandable. While bandwagoning is a blast for those who partake, it is worth considering the other perspective.

When someone sits through awful afternoon after miserable evening, surrounded by only a few kindred spirits - and far outnumbered by empty seats - it's natural to accrue a sense of ownership. The team belong to you. You're the only ones who truly cares.

Then, after the winds shift and a few wins are strung together, suddenly all these strangers are infringing on your property, attempting to steal away a slice of your precious.

But while I have empathy, what's the preferred alternative here? For those empty seats to remain? I'm pretty sure the whole idea of earning a home playoff is taking advantage of a home crowd, both in terms of revenue and support.

Who really cares if many of the new-found fans weren't there during the darkest of days? Those days are (temporarily) over and it's time to embrace the light.

What rugby can learn from netball

Speaking of seeing the light, it was pleasing this week to see Netball New Zealand grant an exemption for Maria Folau to stay in Australia while remaining available for the Silver Ferns.

Coming after Laura Langman was given the same dispensation, it seems NNZ have seen the error of their initial ways.

That revelation was undoubtedly aided by the Silver Ferns' calamitous Commonwealth Games campaign earlier in the year, and further assisted by the looming World Cup in Liverpool next year.

But whatever the motivations, it's better late than never. This arrangement should have been made when Langman first took her talents to the Lucky Country in 2017. Instead, NNZ opted to prevent their best player from wearing the black dress.

Punishing an athlete for doing their day job wherever they choose will hopefully one day be completely consigned to another era (I'm looking at you, rugby).

Sportspeople shouldn't be prevented from playing where they choose in their limited careers, whether for financial or personal reasons.

In Folau's case, she wanted to live in the same city as her husband, Wallabies fullback Israel, which is a reasonable enough request.

Or ... there might have been another impulse, as Sanjay Patel joked on Twitter: "Maria Folau cites 'better homophobia' in reason for moving to Australia."