Warriors players and staff had begun moving into their own apartments in Surfers Paradise, but the lockdown in South-East Queensland has forced them to return to the NRL’s Gold Coast hub.
The Warriors, who are stranded in Australia until at least September 18 following the closure of the trans-Tasman travel bubble, had planned to shift into accommodation away from rival NRL teams before their families are released from quarantine on Wednesday.
Players were packing gear into a van for Warriors football manager Laurie Hale to deliver to the apartments last Saturday as the Queensland Government announced the snap lockdown, which has now been extended until Sunday.
“We had taken numerous van loads of stuff there before the lockdown was announced,” Warriors CEO Cameron George said. “A message was sent out telling everyone to get back to the hotel but some of them thought it was a joke.”
Warriors forward Bunty Afoa said the players, who had delayed the move until after last Friday night's 18-16 defeat of Wests Tigers, were summonsed to an urgent meeting on Saturday.
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“We were told to stop packing, there is going to be a lockdown,” Afoa said. “There was a lot of frustration, the boys are anxious to see their families and move to the new site.
“At first a lot of the boys thought it was a joke but the whole year we have been put under a lot of challenges and once they said there was an urgent meeting, we all knew how serious it was.
“There was a lot of upset faces, the young boys were ready to see the beach.”
The players with children will be joined by their families at the NRL hotel but those who don’t will have to wait to be reunited with their partners after the team was forced to relocate from Gosford to the Gold Coast three weeks ago.
George said this season had been “more challenging and more disruptive” for the Warriors than 2020, when the club had to make the decision to relocate to Australia to enable the Telstra Premiership to continue.
“To start the way we did this year [with few COVID restrictions] and then get to the point where we have had to move all the NSW-based clubs and the Storm, it has become a major exercise now,” he said.
“We have been part of the moving circus for a while now, so we have just got to keep doing what we are doing and hopefully get home at some stage because not all of our families are here.”
Scotland international Euan Aitken, who will again play in the second row on Friday night against Cronulla, said the players were now used to constantly changing circumstances after two years away from New Zealand.
“A lot of boys have got families and kids, I’ve got myself a partner, so moving them around with work and kids in school is not ideal but it is what it is,” Aitken said.
“Literally half the squad had their bags packed ready to move so it was a bit disappointing, but it is another roll with the punches scenario and there are a lot of people in the same boat in South-East Queensland."
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Aitken, who intends to play for Scotland if the World Cup goes ahead at the end of the season, said the Warriors hadn’t given up hope of making the finals if they can beat the Sharks, Bulldogs, Broncos, Raiders and Titans in their run home.
"I feel like we are still a chance of making the eight, with the run we’ve got home and hopefully a couple of other teams fall by the wayside,” he said. “I want to play finals footy and I think everyone here does.”
If they don’t make the finals, the Warriors will be forced to spend two weeks after their last match on September 5 waiting to learn if the trans-Tasman travel bubble will re-open.
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Aitken said he would use the time as an opportunity to get vaccinated.
“There is no push either way from the club, it is a personal decision and rightly so,” Aitken said. “There are people in the team who have different beliefs for different reasons and a lot of them are warranted.
“For me I just want to do my bit for everyone to be able to get out of lockdown and hopefully we can move past this COVID scenario where everyone has to lockdown, everyone has to relocate and that sort of thing.
“I am happy to do it but we might have to wait until the end of the season because they say that sometimes you need a couple of days off training.”