New Zealand Warriors coach Todd Payten has resigned himself to losing four key players after the next round of NRL action.
Star wings Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu'a, prop Agnatius Paasi and forward King Vuniyayawa are all set to return to New Zealand if their families continue to be denied entry to Australia due to the Covid-19 pandemic this coming week. And it seems the odds are against them.
While the NRL has advocated on behalf of the family members, the rising number of new cases of the virus in Victoria has put the Australian government on high alert; leaving the Warriors club expecting little progress in their quest to stage a reunion before the match against the Sharks next weekend.
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Talking to Fox League during coverage of the side's clash with the Titans, Payten said that while the wider squad had accepted the idea of staying in Australia for the full season, the club would stick to its promise of letting some players go home.
"I think the lads have got their head around that they aren't going home. With everything going on in Victoria it just looks more and more certain that we're staying.
"There's a few guys who have expressed that they need to go home for family reasons which is understandable and we've given them a promise that can happen after the Cronulla game.
"I've given them my word, that if we don't have a clear outcome from the government or NRL then they can go home.
"It'll put pressure on us but at the end of the day for the reasons they need to go back, they have to go back."
The Warriors were initially hopeful that the travel situation between Australia and New Zealand would change, allowing the team to return home for part of the NRL season; or enable family members to join the players across the ditch.
Former Warrior and NRL commentator Greg Alexander told Fox League that the loss of those players could be a death knell for the side's prospects this season.
"It would be a disaster for them.
"How do they recover from that? We've been talking about the two wingers who play a big part in winning the Warriors games. If they go home, gee that makes it tough."
Following the match against the Sharks this coming weekend, the Warriors play the Roosters, Tigers, Sea Eagles and Panthers.