The Warriors had initially hoped to return to New Zealand in April, but today pushed that date back to June – and a decision about the chances of hosting games at Mt Smart in 2021 is looming. Michael Burgess reports.
The Warriors have given themselves until May to make a final call about playing games at Mt Smart this season.
That appears to be the latest possible timeframe to decide on relocating back to New Zealand, given the logistics and planning involved with the NRL, stadiums and broadcasters.
This morning the club confirmed they had shelved plans to return home next month, given the resurgence in Covid-19 transmissions in New Zealand which has delayed the prospect of a transtasman bubble.
The Warriors had initially hoped to return home for the April 9 match against the Manly Sea Eagles, after playing their first four games against the Titans, Knights, Raiders and Roosters in Australia.
But on Saturday chief executive Cameron George confirmed the reset, saying the Warriors would now be based on the Central Coast until June 21.
That means at least seven of their home games will be played in Australia this year (six on the Central Coast and one in Brisbane, as part of NRL Magic round) and their earliest possible Mt Smart game will be the 16th round clash with the St George-Illawarra Dragons.
But that will be contingent on the progress – or otherwise – of Covid-19 transmission in Australia and New Zealand and is impossible to foresee.
But George indicated the latest possible go/no call, about games in Auckland in 2021, would be in May.
"We will start looking beyond June now with the stadium, with other activities and so on but I would say around May we would have a really good gauge of what's going on in terms of the border, said George. "And how erratic they are with shutting and opening.
"So, we will really start to focus on our return from May. But we do need to see lot of stability with the decision-making so we don't get caught out and separate our players and families once again."
George reiterated the club's commitment to staging games in New Zealand in 2021.
"We advertised clearly in November last year that we had three three-month blocks locked in," said George. "Our sponsors understood that, our fans understood that, our players understood that. We never once said we slammed the door on the season.
"We definitely want to come home and we haven't slammed the door and we won't slam the door until the last minute when we have to make the next decision."
It's a delicate balancing act. The club is desperate to return – on so many levels – but the border reopening won't mean an immediate green light.
The Warriors are wary of being trapped on this side of the Tasman again, in case of another outbreak, which could mean a repeat of 2020, where players have to return to Australia without their families.
"That's the real challenge," said George. "We can talk about the borders opening but then it's having the confidence that they remain open. The last thing we want to do is rush home and then all of a sudden have to rush back and families are separated from their partners and kids are separated from their dads."
George is confident the ongoing uncertainty, while far from ideal, won't affect the output on the field and says the players are settled and content in Terrigal, after a productive pre-season.
Of greater concern is the financial state of the club, who haven't been able to host an NRL match since August 2019. There has been assistance from various parties, but George plans to discuss further financial remedies with the NRL.
"It has got a big impact on our club financially and we are getting assistance from the NRL and Sport New Zealand and everyone else that can chip in but we're still a long way from being even in terms of our financial position.
"We're well behind because of our relocation. We're between a rock and a hard place and it's been very challenging, but we have got to find new ways of surviving and new ways of finding revenue.
"[But] we'll be going to knock on the [NRL's] door at some stage, because it's really impacted on our financial position - short, medium and long term."