Warriors coach Stephen Kearney clearly doesn’t expect his NRL team to be stranded in a northern NSW beachside resort beyond this weekend, with the scramble to keep sport going through the coronavirus pandemic looking increasingly problematic.
The Auckland-based club have based themselves in Kingscliff this week with travel restrictions relating to the coronavirus outbreak keeping them in Australia if they are to fulfil their fixtures.
Kearney’s team will play Canberra on Saturday at CBUS Super Stadium on the Gold Coast behind closed doors but whether they stay in Australia beyond that match is still up in the air.
Should the Warriors head home after their match with the Raiders, they will be subject to a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period, making it impossible for them to play subsequent fixtures.
The Warriors coach however expects the decision to be taken out of their hands amid the escalating situation.
“I’m picking that things will resolve itself over the next little bit,” he said.
We’re trying to predict the future here but … if I’m looking at the situation globally, as has been touched on, in terms of competitions and what’s gone on. I anticipate the situation will sort itself out.”
Kearney’s more immediate concern has been ensuring his team can prepare as professionally as possible for the Raiders match.
Peta Hiku and Patrick Herbert have both chosen to return to New Zealand for family reasons.
With some members of the Warriors’ NSW Cup team joining the main squad, there are 24 players at Kearney’s disposal for Saturday.
“We’ve got enough guys here at the moment to cope with that,” Kearney said.
“Having Pet and Pat go home has put a bit of pressure on from that sense but we’re talking with the NRL at the moment.”
The situation has left Warriors’ management scrambling to get hold of training supplies and other essentials.
With only 10 footballs at their disposal, a shortage of strapping tape and players who had packed for a two-day trip, it’s been a busy 24 hours for the club’s operations manager.
Training venues had to be confirmed at short notice while commercial partners and rival NRL teams have come to the Warriors aid.
Captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck said the key now would be to ensure the team is focused solely on facing the Raiders.
“Over the last two days, or 24 hours as well, so much has changed,” Tuivasa-Sheck said.
“What we can do as a playing group and as a club is just focus on the day-by-day. We know it’s going to work itself out.”
The AFL is in high-level meetings to consider the future of its season, with the lower level VFL competition suspending its season.
As it stands, the elite competition is pushing ahead with plans to start its 198-game home-and-away season on Thursday night behind closed doors.
Richmond and Carlton will play in front of empty stands at the MCG.
That is despite Tigers premiership captain Trent Cotchin on Monday telling SEN the cancellation and postponement of sporting competitions around the world “raises an alarm” for the AFL.
A series of meetings between key stakeholders – including the AFL, clubs, government and health authorities – could clarify the situation on Monday.
There was some good news, however, with Fox Footy reporting Collingwood skipper Scott Pendlebury was tested and cleared of the virus after feeling ill.
The VFL decision comes as a blow to Victoria’s AFL clubs, with all 10 normally fielding reserves or affiliate teams in the 15-team state-based competition.
Players not selected for AFL duty will now have nowhere to maintain match fitness and push their cases for senior selection.
It means that the non-Victorian AFL clubs could enjoy one slight advantage, if the elite competition goes ahead.
As it stands, their respective reserves teams will play on as usual, with the WAFL, SANFL and NEAFL all going ahead as planned.
The VFL closure would help AFL clubs reduce the risk of their players being infected with the coronavirus and cut costs.
But it could also threaten the jobs of many people within the football industry and the existence of historic standalone clubs.
Australia’s elite Under-18 competition – the Victorian-based NAB League – could also be put on hold.