Kiwi teams stay in Australia as leagues try to defy virus

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The New Zealand Warriors rugby league team has decided to indefinitely base itself in Australia, separating players from their families, in the hope of continuing to play in Australia’s National Rugby League as the coronavirus crisis continues.

At a meeting on Thursday players said that with the support of their families they will play matches in Australia as long as the league continues.

Australia and New Zealand have both sealed their borders to travellers other than citizens and permanent residents. That makes it impossible for players’ families to join them in Australia or for the Warriors to host matches in New Zealand.

“The NRL need us now, we’re there,” Warriors chief executive Cameron George told a news conference Thursday. “We’re standing tall and we’re very proud of doing that for our fans and our families.

“I can’t emphasize enough the resilience this group is showing in times like this. Any one of us sitting here right now, if we were told to go live in another country away from your families, unplanned and for an indefinite period, I’m not sure how many people would stand up for that challenge.”

The Warriors played Newcastle in Australia in the opening round of the league last weekend and were due to play Canberra in Auckland on Saturday. That match will now be played, technically as a Warriors home match, on the Gold Coast.

George said while the decision to remain in Australia was tough on some players, there was universal agreement they should stay.

“We have an opportunity to show the world that in the face of adversity we can stand tall, we can be leaders and we’re going to take it on,” George said. “The game is really struggling at the moment and I feel like our guys thought if they walked away, it might have started to crack the game down.”

Even as the weekend’s second round of NRL matches unfolds, there are doubts the league can continue much longer in the face of increasingly stringent restrictions on public gatherings and social contact.

New Zealand’s only professional soccer team, the Wellington Phoenix, has also based itself in Australia to continue playing in the A-League. The team will play the remainder of its regular season matches in New South Wales state.

The team finds itself in a difficult position because it has several imported players who cannot travel to New Zealand if the team has to return there. A spokesperson said the Phoenix are “currently investigating the situation and its impact on our players and staff.”

New Zealand Rugby is continuing to work on plans for a domestic competition involving its professional teams after the suspension of the Super Rugby competition. Those plans again seem likely to be affected by restrictions on public gatherings.

NZR has been determined to put together an alternative competition, to help cash-strapped clubs and its ailing broadcast partner Sky Sports.

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