The Warriors are set to remain based in Australia for the 2022 NRL season, but plans have emerged to bring games back to Mt Smart Stadium next season for a long-awaited return. Michael Burgess reports.
The Warriors hope to play half their home games at Mt Smart in 2022, even though they will be based in Australia.
That scenario would represent the best possible compromise, after more than two years without a match in Auckland.
As revealed by the Herald last week, the Warriors are set to be based in the Brisbane suburb of Redcliffe next season.
Details are still to be finalised, but will be confirmed soon, with the start of pre-season training only two months away.
While the club will live, train and play in the Queensland capital, they hope to stage six matches on this side of the Tasman on a 'fly-in, fly-out' basis.
"We would be looking at taking half our games back, that was our proposal," Warriors chief executive Cameron George told the Herald on Sunday. "We want to take as many as we can."
It's seen as a pragmatic solution to a complex problem.
"It would be a huge boost," says George. "Regardless of what people feel and think, that we should take the risk [to be based in New Zealand], it's hard to, because you need to manage so many outcomes. But if we can achieve this, it will be huge for our fans."
It is envisaged that both teams would fly to Auckland 48 hours before a game, then return to Australia the day after the match.
The club have not considered a repeat of this year's plan, where the season was divided into three sections, with return dates pencilled in after each block.
"It was complicated and it didn't work," said George. "In theory it sounded good but wasn't ideal for the families, every three months, thinking, well, what are we doing?"
After today's game against the Titans (4pm), the players and staff will remain together on the Gold Coast for the foreseeable future.
Assistant coach Justin Morgan admits it has been a difficult week, as the realisation of the finals failure hit home, but they will be ready.
"We are focused on finishing the season with a performance that we can be proud of," said Morgan. "There is some underlying disappointment that we are not playing next week, but that's the way it rolls."
After Cronulla's 28-16 loss to Melbourne on Friday, the Titans can claim eighth spot if they beat the Warriors by a margin of 11 points or more.
"That is a good thing for us," said Morgan. "They are going to come to play. That will make sure that we are focused. If we dig in, come with the right attitude and play to our potential, hopefully the result looks after itself."
It's also a farewell match for the Townsville bound Peta Hiku, a mercurial talent who has been at the centre of most of the Warriors' best attacking moments since 2018. The 28-year-old didn't want to leave his hometown club, but opted for the Cowboys, who offered a longer, two-year deal.
"He is a natural footballer, can play almost anywhere and has been great for the young players," said Morgan. "It would have been great to keep him, but we understand he had to secure a future for his family. We just have to work really hard, coach really hard and develop those young players, who will need to continue to grow."
It's likely that Kodi Nikorima will be left out of the initial 17 named, with Morgan saying coaches have opted to "go with Jazz Tevaga this week".