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Homecoming day is here - the first Mount Smart Stadium home game experience in 1038 days for Vodafone Warriors players, staff, families, friends, members and sponsors.

It's an occasion like no other in the club's history.

If March 10, 1995, was the arrival then July 3, 2022 is emphatically the rebirth, everyone brought together for a common cause after a separation no one wanted but couldn't avoid. 

For the legion of supporters - not to mention the players - kick-off at 4.00pm can't come soon enough. While it's an on-field battle against the Wests Tigers, this week, this day and the months leading up is all about one team, one club, one fanbase.

It's a day offering so much to everyone involved. There'll be a sense of release and relief for many, joy and anticipation for those walking through Mount Smart's gates again, or doubtless the first time period for those who have never been to a Vodafone Warriors game before.

There'll be goosebumps, smiles, cheers and tears across the afternoon building to the biggest outpouring of emotion when the Vodafone Warriors run out onto Mount Smart Stadium a tick before 4.00pm.

The players have been goggled-eyed all week beholding what has been in front of them - coming through the stadium's gates, Tuesday's pōwhiri, being in the office, the gym, the dressing room and locker room, on the training field and seeing staff they haven't connected with in so long (for those who were here before) or meeting for the first time (for the new faces). And then training in front of ecstatic members yesterday.

One moment, though, stood out above all this week.

That was on Thursday when the players had their first taste of running onto Mount Smart Stadium. There was hooting and hollering, shouts of joy, smiles and laughter as they ran, sidestepped and skipped their way down the ground. It was like the sight in Europe when barn doors are opened to free a herd of cows after they've been closed up for a long winter.

Shaun Johnson was overcome with joy and excitement as he ran the full length of the field while some did starfish slides on the surface. They were home.

For everyone - not least the ever-resilient fans - the wait of two years, 10 months, four days – or almost 1.5 million minutes – is over.

After such a drought, it will be akin to starting all over again, a second coming.

For threequarters of the 2022 squad today is a new dawn rather than a homecoming with just seven of the top 30 players having previous experience of playing for the Vodafone Warriors at Mount Smart Stadium – captain Tohu Harris, Shaun Johnson, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Adam Pompey, Bunty Afoa, Jazz Tevaga and Josh Curran. Only three of today's line-up - Pompey, Tevaga and Harris-Tavita played in the last match against South Sydney in 2019.

Vodafone Warriors welcomed back to Mount Smart Stadium

In their third season with the club, Wayde Egan (50 appearances), Eliesa Katoa (40) and Jack Murchie (32) are yet to play an NRL game for the club on home soil along with other players signed last season and this season.

Which just adds another layer to an experience which will be like no other.

Members and fans showed how much their club means to them when they voted with their hearts, the match sold out 10 days ago, the club's fastest-selling regular season game other than in the debut season in 1995.

After hosting the Tigers today, the Vodafone Warriors' Homecoming Series will continue against Melbourne on July 29, Canterbury Bankstown on August 12 and Gold Coast on September 3.

But that can wait. There has never been anything like today and there won't be again. It's an I-was-there moment for the 26,500-plus who'll jam into Mount Smart Stadium. Bring it on and take it all in. 

  • Tickets to the remaining Mount Smart Stadium games against, Melbourne, Canterbury Bankstown and Gold Coast are on sale through www.ticketmaster.co.nz .
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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