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Warriors keen to go home but prepared for further sacrifice

Warriors players hope to go home next month but are prepared to remain in Australia for a second successive season to ensure the competition continues without the risk of being disrupted by border closures.

A meeting between Warriors management and the NRL next week is expected to decide whether the team can return to New Zealand on June 21 as scheduled to prepare for their first home match at Mt Smart Stadium in almost two years against St George Illawarra on July 2.

The decision by the New Zealand government to ban travellers from NSW last weekend after a man from Sydney’s eastern suburbs tested positive to COVID-19 has raised concerns that the team could be stranded on either side of the Tasman whenever future cases occur.

Star forward Tohu Harris said the Warriors players had not been told of any change to the club’s plans but they were aware that the team may be required to remain on the Central Coast until the end of the season.

“At the moment, as far as we know it is still that June 21 date, but I think the club is in talks with the NRL and hopefully we hear back from them over the next week or two,” Harris said.

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“That’s as far as we know. We know there is a set date, but we know there are two scenarios; we either go home or we stay here longer.

“We would love to be able to play in front of our home crowd back in Auckland but it’s a decision that is in someone else’s hands and they will probably make it based on what’s best for the competition.

“Any time we get some games back in Auckland that will only be a positive for the club but we just have to wait and see.”

Centre Euan Aitken, who joined the Warriors this season from the Dragons, is yet to experience playing for the home team at Mt Smart Stadium and is keen to finally move to Auckland.

“I think they are going to make a decision in the next couple of weeks, but I am definitely looking forward to going to New Zealand,” Aitken said. “We are missing our home fans at Mt Smart Stadium so hopefully it will be a packed stadium when we get back there

“Obviously there are really good facilities over there, we have a make-shift scenario here with demountables and that sort of thing, so I am really looking forward to getting back into that professional environment in New Zealand, which is a first-class facility.

“The Central Coast has been really good to us, they have really supported us here, so we are going to keep turning up at Central Coast Stadium and playing our best footy.”

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The Warriors play Parramatta on Sunday at Suncorp Stadium and the Eels are waiting on the results of COVID-19 tests before being able to finalise their team after the club ignored advice last week to withdraw players from the NSW Cup.

With five-eighth Dylan Brown and centre Marata Niukore suspended and hooker Reed Mahoney in doubt after a HIA last weekend, Parramatta have named Jakob Arthur, Ray Stone, Joey Lussick and Jordan Rankin in their 21-man squad.

However, the four players require negative COVID-19 tests before being allowed to fly to Brisbane, where they will be able to join  their Eels team-mates for the first time this week. 

Arthur, the 18-year-old son of Parramatta coach Brad Arthur, is set to make his NRL debut at five-eighth, while Stone has been named on the interchange bench.

"Their squad is a quality side so we have got to make sure that we are on our game," Harris said. "The biggest thing is the intensity they play at, they play fast and they play aggressively and we have to be able to play at that level for long periods of time."

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Former Warriors forward Isaiah Papali'i has been one of Parramatta's best players this season and Harris revealed that the pair engaged in regular chess games, through an app.

"We have a few games a week and it has been going on since pretty much the season started," Harris said.

"I wouldn't call myself a chess master but he hasn't won one yet. He is definitely playing footy a lot better than he plays chess so he is going to be hard to handle for us this weekend."

Harris said that he only played against Papali'i and Warriors team-mate Pride Petterson-Robati but other NRL players were also keen chess players.

"Isaiah says he plays a couple of his team-mates and I know a few of the Melbourne boys play each other," he said.

"When I was there we had a little competition going, with players like Kenny Bromwich, Christian Welch and Felise Kaufusi. I am sure they still play a few games together but I haven't played those guys for a long while."

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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