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Heading north in the winter: Inside NRL's mass relocation

Warriors players Euan Aitken and Josh Curran were “nervous” and “concerned” after fellow passengers on their plane from the Gold Coast to Sydney tested positive to COVID-19 while they were in isolation.

Aitken and Curran, who were forced to isolate for 14 days after a cabin crew member on their June 26 flight tested positive, completed their stint last Sunday only to learn that they would need to endure another two weeks of isolation when the Warriors arrived in Queensland on Wednesday.

The Warriors joined players and staff from the NRL’s nine Sydney clubs, as well as Canberra and Newcastle, on charter flights to South-East Queensland, where they will be separated into hubs in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.

“It is pretty much out of isolation to go back into isolation,” said Curran, who found it difficult being on his own for 14 days after room-mates Rocco Berry, Adam Pompey and Jackson Frei were forced to move out of their Central Coast apartment.

NSW Health announced on July 4 that “multiple” passengers on the Virgin Australia flight had later tested positive to COVID-19.

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“I was a little bit concerned a couple of the days, but I was just grateful that we both didn’t have it and we got through there in the end COVID free,” Aitken said.

“I was right up the back in the corner so I thought there would be a good chance that I didn’t have anything to do with the flight attendant, but you don’t know where they were working.”

Curran said he had also been worried.

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“I got told by our doctor that there were a couple of people getting COVID from the flight,” he said.

“To be honest, I got nervous and was just praying I wasn’t one of them.”

Berry, Pompey and Frei also had to isolate for a day while waiting for Curran to return a negative COVID-19 test before they can train with Warriors team-mates as they were in the apartment when the forward returned from the Gold Coast.

The trio moved back in on Monday and then had to re-pack for the trip to the Gold Coast, where the Warriors will now be based until the end of the season.

“For me, I have got my personal car here, so I have got to try and figure out how to get that up to the Gold Coast,” Curran said. “But it is more about the boys with families trying to move their kids up there and their wives.”

Aitken has had to leave his partner Kirsty behind as the couple have a dog and two cats that they are unable to take to Queensland.

Kirsty had also just found work as a nurse on the Central Coast after moving to Wollongong when Aitken joined the Warriors this season.

Each team's Queensland hub

“At the moment they are trying to get everyone out of the apartments here, so we are going to have to work out alternative arrangements down in Wollongong. She will probably rent down there,” Aitken said.

“She is pretty disappointed that we are going to have to be away from each other for eight weeks but it could be worse, it could be longer.

“It’s what we need to do for the game and for our careers, and there are a lot of people worse off than us. There is a bit of perspective around that. I am just keen to get back on the field. I have had an injury and then I was in isolation for the past two weeks.”

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'Tougher for teams that are struggling'

The Warriors have become accustomed to living away from home, as they have spent the last two seasons in Kingscliff, Tamworth, Kiama and Terrigal.

However, for the other 11 clubs relocating for at least a month, and possibly until the end of the season, it is a new experience likely to present unexpected challenges for some.

Former Australian Diamonds star Tegan Philip was a member of the last year’s Super Netball grand final winning Melbourne Vixens team which spent 14 weeks on the Sunshine Coast in a hub.

“When we were leaving, we were told it may be eight weeks but once we got there we weren’t coming home,” Philip said. “It was certainly an experience, there were some funs times and I enjoyed it but there were certainly some challenges as well.

“I also think that when you are successful and winning like we were last year that is a bit of an easier situation to be in as well, whereas I think it is a bit tougher for the teams that are struggling a bit more performance wise.

“Not being able to go home and having to live in this hub environment is certainly a bit more challenging for them.”

Philip said the Vixens players and coaching staff decided it was important to ensure they didn’t suffer burnout from being in a team environment with no escape from each other.

“Just because we were around each 24-7 doesn’t mean we had to do more training sessions or have more meetings or things like that,” Philip said.

“They wanted to keep it like it would be if we were at home so therefore when we didn’t have any commitments the rest of the time was ours where we could find ways to make sure we switch off, which I think is crucial.

“It certainly has those benefits of spending more time together and hanging out more and enjoying each other’s company, but it was important to have the flexibility to not to get caught in each other’s pockets.”

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'Hard to switch off'

Melbourne Storm also achieved success last year after spending most of the season confined to a resort on the Sunshine Coast and they recently returned to Victoria after another stint in Queensland.

“We spent the first part of the season up on the Sunny Coast so it is good to be back home,” centre Justin Olam said. “At the moment we are doing Stage 4 quarantine like the rest of the NRL, but we are happy that we are quarantining in our own houses rather than all together on the Sunny Coast.

“It will be a bit challenging for the 12 teams who have moved up to Queensland, so we will see how they go.”

Olam said he made a determined effort to spend time away from his team-mates when possible.

“Last year when we were up there, we were just waking up and going to sleep in the same place,” Olam said. “It was just training and when we came back, we were seeing the same people all the time in the same place.

“I personally would wake up in the morning and when we were allowed, I would go for a walk on my own. I found that really helped me.

“It is definitely hard to switch off from footy, but the positive side is that you do get to spend heaps time with the rest of the boys and get to know their partners and families. That bought us closer together rather than getting annoyed with each other.

“It depends on how they take it as individual team, so it is up to them and their coaching staff to do their jobs.”