New Zealand Warriors end pandemic-forced exile
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — After 148 days separated from their families the New Zealand Warriors have played the last match of their season in Australia’s National Rugby League, ending with a win but finishing in 10th place among 16 teams.
Anticipated family reunions will have to wait a little longer. The Warriors’ players and coaching staff will have to spend 14 days in managed isolation when they return Monday to New Zealand, five months after their departure for Australia.
Covid-19 quarantine restrictions imposed in March meant the only New Zealand team in the Australian league could no longer play matches at home. Visiting teams would have to spend two weeks in quarantine on arrival in New Zealand and again on their return to Australia. The Warriors, in turn, would have to spend a month in quarantine on each side of the Tasman every time they played an away game.
The only solution to allow the Warriors to continue in the NRL was for them to move to Australia. They did so in May, at first with the understanding family members would soon be able to join them. That proved to be a false promise and the players have since been separated from their families, but for a few who made an early decision to return home.
They were contenders for a place for the league finals when they arrived in Australia. But the strain of being so long away from home told on their form and they gradually slipped from finals contention, despite a late season rally.
On the way their head coach, Steve Kearney, was sacked, adding to a season of difficulties.
When they ran onto the field for their final match on Sunday, their opponents, the Manly Sea Eagles, formed a guard of honor to recognize their sacrifice.
The Warriors brought down the curtain on a high note with a 40-28 win, their eighth win from 20 games.
“It’s been a crazy ride,” said retiring captain Adam Blair. “I’ve given my all to every team I’ve played for. It’s been a tough year for our club and everyone in general.”
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