Separated from friends and family for most of the NRL season, the Warriors have won the hearts of many – but the embattled club has now been dealt arguably its most cruel blow yet.
The NRL is being accused of "kicking the Warriors in the guts" in a massive sponsorship row.
The dispute means that Vodafone, the Warriors' naming rights sponsor for 22 years, will almost certainly be forced to walk away from the club at the end of this season with two years left on its current deal.
While the game showers praise on the nomad Warriors for keeping a legitimate competition going, the NRL power brokers have pulled the financial rug from underneath the Auckland club.
Vodafone has been told it can no longer have the naming rights because the NRL has decided now is the right time to enact a telecommunications exclusivity clause which protects the competition's major sponsor Telstra.
The NRL's acting chief executive Andrew Abdo confirmed its position to Herald, describing the situation as "unfortunate".
The Warriors have enough choppy waters to negotiate already, with their squad forced to camp in Australia for most of this season because of Covid-19. They may need to do the same next year if a virus outbreak continues to threaten.
Vodafone, which puts more than $1m a year into the club, won't remain involved in any capacity unless it retains full naming rights.
A highly placed Vodafone insider - who did not want to be named - told the Herald that ways of fighting the decision are being looked at but the situation was not promising.
Ironically, the insider said the NRL's U-turn may be down to the positive PR being generated by the club, possibly irking Telstra.
"The Warriors have been advised their naming rights deal with us is in conflict with the game-wide rights of Telstra," the insider said.
"The NRL aren't going to grant an exemption beyond the current season. All they offered was a derisory non-naming rights option as an alternative.
"We're gutted … the NRL has told us our name isn't welcome. This feels like another example of the Warriors getting the rough end of the stick."
Warriors CEO Cameron George opted not to comment when approached, except to say: "We are exploring a number of key elements around the situation which could lead to further considerations."
Telstra, the NRL naming sponsor since 2001, negotiated a new deal in 2015 which included an exclusivity option although the Warriors were apparently unaware of it initially. Whatever the legality of the situation, and the exact order of events since 2015, the Warriors will garner plenty of public sympathy over the NRL's decision.
After the full lockdown ended, the club was forced to quit Auckland and use a ground in Gosford on the Central Coast as its new home venue when the competition resumed at round three. It has lost players who wanted to return home, been forced to find loan replacements, and dealt with homesick squad members.
But sponsorship danger signs quickly emerged, when the NRL ordered them to remove Vodafone-branded goalpost protectors at the Gosford ground.
"I feel sorry for Cameron and the guys - they get another kick in the guts," the Vodafone insider said.
"It has put the Warriors and Vodafone in a very, very difficult position. We don't know if Telstra forced this, or whether the NRL has come to its own conclusion."
The move would seem at odds with modern trends, most notably the attitude of Aussie Rules. The AFL is backed by Toyota in Australia's richest sports sponsorship deal, but there are so many other car brands involved with teams that is jokingly known as the Automotive Football League.
Vodafone meanwhile is preparing to wave goodbye to an old friend.
"It has been a fantastic 22 years, through all the ups and downs, including two grand final appearances, and watching world class players in action," the company source said.
"We've been hearing about it over the past fortnight. We were shocked and surprised it was a problem all of a sudden.
"But there has been a sudden change of stance from the NRL. Very few people within our business know about this yet - there will be widespread disappointment."
Meanwhile Abdo said: "Telstra has been the naming rights partner of the premiership for a long period of time and invest significantly in the game. All clubs benefit from this investment.
"We have been working with the Warriors for a number of years on managing the inherent conflict that exists with their club sponsor and the competing naming rights sponsor.
"It's unfortunate that the Warriors and Vodafone have not been able to come up with a mutually beneficial solution, despite the NRL working closely on potential options to try and retain Vodafone as a partner for the Warriors."
But the Vodafone source described the NRL's position as revealing a narrow Australian focus.
"I thought they would be bending over backwards to help the Warriors right now," the insider reckoned.
"I can only conclude they are doing this because the Warriors have captured the hearts and minds of the neutral fan."