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Warriors aim to sell out homecoming after being forced to relocate

The Warriors are aiming to return to New Zealand for a sold-out homecoming match against Manly on April 9 as one of the Telstra Premiership’s frontrunners after being forced to relocate to Australia for the start of the season.

The ARL Commission this week signed off on a detailed plan for the Warriors to spend a month in camp at Tamworth from January 3 before shifting to the Central Coast until April 5 after the New Zealand government rejected a request for the team to train together in a quarantine hub.

The decision has left the Warriors facing another lengthy stint in Australia but CEO Cameron George and new coach Nathan Brown view it as an opportunity for the club and want to attract big crowds for their opening two "home" matches against Gold Coast and Newcastle in Gosford.

After away matches against Canberra and Sydney Roosters, the Warriors are preparing to return to Auckland for their round-five clash with Manly and aim to sell out Mt Smart Stadium for their first game in New Zealand since 2019.

George said the club would begin promoting the match against the Sea Eagles next week, while Brown believes it would be a huge boost for their premiership campaign if they were able to win most of their games in Australia.

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"We are so desperate to be here and play in front of our fans and represent them," George said.

"We take a lot of pride in what we do for them, we take a lot of pride in what we had to do this year but we want to come back and share that excitement with our fans at some stage.

"Our eyes are set on that April 9 game here against Manly and we are going to go to market with that and we are going to sell as if we are coming home so for all of our fans they should get very excited about that. We want it sold out, we want it ready to go."

A group of more than 40 players will train in Tamworth, where the Warriors stayed for their mandatory 14-day quarantine before this year’s season restarted on May 28, before those not in the NRL squad join feeder club Redcliffe and the others move to Terrigal.

The Warriors have 14 players training in Kiama and the rest in Auckland with Brown so he believes the time together will be beneficial for the team, particularly with seven recruits and star wingers David Fusitu'a and Ken Maumalo rejoining the squad.

With travel from New Zealand to NSW now permitted, there are no concerns about players returning home as Fusitu'a, Maumalo and a number of others did last season.

"The fact we are living together is probably a bonus for us as opposed to living in different parts of New Zealand," Brown said.

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"Our access to the players and the access of the players to the staff is far, far more reaching if we are all living together.

"Hopefully we are back here for that Friday game against Manly and if we manage some things well at Tamworth and the Central Coast we come here on the back of some good form."

George said he did not know why the club's application to train in a quarantine bubble like the Wallabies before their Bledisloe Cup matches in New Zealand had been rejected but he insisted the Warriors would now move on.

Warriors coach Nathan Brown.
Warriors coach Nathan Brown. ©photosport.co.nz

The decision comes after the touring Pakistani cricket team, which now has up to eight players with COVID-19 in New Zealand, were put on final notice by the government after breaching a number of managed isolation rules in Christchurch and have been banned from training.

"What we tried to achieve after Christmas was to bring all of the Australian-based players and staff that are in Kiama at the moment into a quarantine facility very similar to what the Wallabies undertook when they came over," George said.

"That was declined for whatever reasons … so we had no other alternative other than to head off shore. With that in mind there is an exciting opportunity that we intend to exploit and exploit very well.

"The real difference in 2021, as it stands now, is that there are no crowd limits on the stadiums in NSW, as was announced two days ago, so having home games on the Central Coast we are now committed to selling tickets for and creating a fan base and membership base and so on."

George and Warriors chairman Rob Croot had been preparing for the possibility the team would again need to play in Australia since Brown’s appointment as coach in August and they have been in regular dialogue with the NRL.

"Peter V'landys, Andrew Abdo and Jaymes Boland-Rudder have done nothing but listen to us, understood our challenge and we have all been hopeful that the border was going to be open but they certainly respected the fact that we had to make a decision at some stage," George said.

"They had a Commission meeting on Wednesday to endorse our announcement today in order to give our club the best chance we could."

Croot said the decision for the Warriors to be remain on the Central Coast until April 5 was based around the NSW education department’s 2021 calendar so players bringing children could enrol them at school for the first term.