AP NEWS

Coronavirus makes New Zealand teams exiles in Australia

March 16, 2020 GMT

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s professional rugby league and soccer teams have taken the extreme step of basing themselves in Australia to continue playing in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Wellington-based Phoenix have agreed to undergo 14 days of self-isolation in Sydney in order to continue in Australian football’s A-League. The New Zealand Warriors will base themselves at Kingscliff in New South Wales state to continue competing in the National Rugby League, at least through the second round this weekend.

The NRL and Football Federation Australia have yet to follow other professional sports in suspending their leagues because of the virus outbreak and consequent restrictions on travel and public gatherings.

All travelers landing in New Zealand are required to complete 14 days of compulsory self-isolation, leading the NRL and A-League to rule out playing further matches in New Zealand for now.

The Phoenix, New Zealand’s only fully professional soccer team, will arrive Tuesday in Sydney, where they will go into quarantine at a hotel before resuming their participation in the league.

“This is an unprecedented time and extremely complex for the sport and society at large,” A-League chief executive James Johnson said.

The New Zealand Warriors played their opening match of the NRL season in a 20-0 loss at Newcastle, north of Sydney, on Saturday and decided to remain in Australia to avoid a period of isolation returning to New Zealand and the prospect of then being excluded from the league

Their decision means players and support staff may be separated from families in New Zealand for weeks if the NRL continues to play competition games as planned in empty stadiums. The Warriors are scheduled to play the Canberra Raiders, NRL runners-up last season, on the Gold Coast on Saturday.

Two leading players, Peta Hiku and Patrick Herbert, chose to return to New Zealand; Hiku’s wife is pregnant and Herbert’s wife recently gave birth to their first child.

“They’re big things for these guys and they’ve decided, with our support, to come home,” Warriors chief executive Cameron George told Newstalk ZB radio. “Clearly that’s going to have a major impact on our team, losing our starting center and winger. But that’s secondary in these circumstances when you’re considering the family and what’s happening.”

The Warriors’ decision, praised by rival teams, has come with logistical challenges. At least 24 players have remained in Australia and supplies are running thin.

“The boys only came with enough gear for a couple of days,” Warriors operations manager Dan Floyd told the Australian Associated Press. “We only had enough strapping tape for the weekend.

“There’s our training equipment, training jerseys for the week that we need to get here. Footies (footballs). We only had enough footies for a captain’s run and a game not for a full week of training.”

Floyd said there was also the concern about the club’s players who are still in New Zealand.

“They still need to train. Who is training them? Where are they going to train?” he said. “”There’s just so many moving parts that we needed to consider but after the initial 24 hours we’ve got on top of it and feeling a lot better.”

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