For the first time in more than two years the Vodafone Warriors were back together as a team at Mount Smart Stadium this morning when they were welcomed back onto Mount Smart Stadium with a pōwhiri led by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.
The bulk of the players and football staff flew into Auckland from Brisbane last night to reunite with the rest of the squad in central Auckland before travelling on the Vodafone Warriors’ bus to join club staff outside the stadium’s gates just before 8.30am.
The majority of the squad were seeing the stadium for the first time as Vodafone Warriors; indeed, only seven of the group have experienced an NRL match for the club at Mount Smart Stadium.
Vodafone Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson, still agog about being home, captured what it meant for many in the squad when he talked to media following the pōwhiri.
“I'm not sure I can put it into words if I'm being honest. It's been a long time for a lot of the boys,” he said.
“To be at home and feel like where you belong, it's a feeling I can't actually describe.”
Two hours later the Vodafone Warriors were training on the stadium's #3 field as they launched their preparation for their homecoming encounter with the Wests Tigers on Sunday (July 3), the club's first match at Mount Smart in 1038 days since hosting South Sydney on August 30, 2019.
Not since Wednesday, March 11, 2020 had the Vodafone Warriors been together en masse at their home ground. They trained that day before flying out the following day for their season-opening match against the Knights in Newcastle.
And then Covid struck and changed the landscape in ways no one could ever have imagined.