Are blue, red and green fast becoming New Zealand’s new national colours?
Looking at the flocks of fans commuting to Auckland today ahead of the Warriors’ playoff match against the Newcastle Knights, it’s starting to seem so.
Air New Zealand is mostly responsible for the number of Christchurch supporters heading to tonight’s game – the airline flying 170 passionate Warriors fans on a special Grabaseat charter flight, most of who are really starting to believe this could be the Warriors’ year.
Former Warriors player Awen Guttenbeil was hosting the “Wahs Express”, as he hyped up the fans, surprising them with selfies and giveaways.
The charter sold out in less than 24 hours earlier in the week. Costing fans $259, they got a one-way ticket to the City of Sails and a ticket to the match.
Air New Zealand chief Greg Foran was onboard and was proud to make it happen.
“The Warriors are not just Auckland’s team,” he told the Herald. “We know they’ve got a fanbase right around the country, and so here’s an opportunity for people in the South Island to get to Christchurch and get up to the game.”
Foran has a clear soft-spot for the New Zealand NRL side, having had two sons, Kieran and Liam, both previously play for the franchise. Kieran is playing for the Gold Coast Titans this season.
“I tend to follow where my kids play... but my team is the Warriors, so I had to be here on this flight.”
Foran said the Warriors “absolutely deserve” to be in this playoff position. “What we saw from the Warriors is just absolute consistency, particularly in that back half [of the season].”
Guttenbeil, too, said they’d earned this opportunity. “The expectations at the beginning of the year were certainly there... but if you could have painted a script on, how the season’s been and how well the boys have been performing – it’s just unreal.
“They’ve exceeded I’m sure even some of their expectations, and as a fan and a massive supporter of the club, it’s so nice and rewarding to see them get success. To be here for a home final is beyond words.”
The 47-year-old, who has become a New Zealand league legend, was an integral part of the side’s success in 2002 when a Warriors team made an NRL grand final for the first time.
From experience, he said the team would be facing some pressure but would be equally excited for the opportunity to play at home.
“They would have been ready for this game after last week’s performance and not coming up with the victory. It’s do or die.
”There’ll be a little bit of nerves, playing at home in front of a sold-out stadium, [but] it’s just gonna be amazing.
“It’s a cliche but they’ll be focused on this game and then it’s one more win, one away from the grand final.”
As the flight tracked up the country, Guttenbeil jumped on the intercom to give away a handful of signed Warriors gear.
He told the Herald it was “fantastic” what Air New Zealand had done. “It is the New Zealand Warriors and [the flight has] given the opportunity for people from Christchurch to come up and cheer the boys... it’s amazing.”
As the plane descended into Auckland, the excitement and nerves were building – including Foran’s.
“It’s all on, in a few hours time... a must-win game at Go Media Stadium. It’s going to be fantastic,” Foran said. “Up the Wahs!”