New Zealand players have finally left Denver after a lightning strike on a control tower caused their flight to be cancelled but Martin Taupau could be forced to spend another night in the USA as a delayed departure means he is likely to miss his connecting flight from San Francisco to Sydney.
A frustrated Taupau was the last Kiwis player to leave Denver and flew to San Francisco at 11pm Monday (Tuesday, 3pm AEST), along with five members of the New Zealand team staff, including assistant coaches Nathan Cayless and Ben Gardiner.
The group had spent 11 hours at Denver International Airport after their rescheduled flight was delayed due to mechanical problems with the plane and they are not due to arrive in San Francisco until after their connecting flight to Sydney departs.
The Kiwis players and staff were booked on different flights with a variety of airlines to get the players home as soon as possible after they were forced to spend an extra night in the United States following their Test against England at Mile High Stadium.
The Kiwis staff and players had checked in at Denver International Airport ahead of their scheduled departure on Sunday night but widespread cancellations due to a lighting strike on a control tower meant they were unable to catch a connecting from San Francisco to Sydney.
Team management was able to book rooms at the Westin Hotel adjoining the airport and players did an additional recovery session in the hotel pool on Monday before before going to the airport for flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Warriors players Issac Luke, Ken Maumalo and Peta Hiku, along with members of New Zealand-based Kiwis staff members, flew to Los Angeles and have since departed on a connecting flight scheduled to arrive in Auckland at about 6am (NZT) Wednesday.
Kiwis coach Michael Maguire and most of the team, are due to land in Australia early Wednesday morning.
Initially, the Warriors players were scheduled to land in Sydney with the remainder of the squad at 6.30am Tuesday and then had to catch a third flight to New Zealand, which was due in Auckland at 3pm (NZT).
The NRL will be understanding of clubs needing to bring players from outside of their 21-man squads named at 4pm Tuesday to replace members of the Kiwis squads, as well as other teams involved in last weekend's representative round.
Taupau has been named in the Sea Eagles team to play Penrith on Saturday but may not arrive home until Thursday.
The Warriors host Cronulla on Friday night at Mt Smart Stadium and coach Stephen Kearney is also assessing the fitness of David Fusitu’a and Solomone Kata, who missed Tonga’s Pacific Test defeat of Samoa due to injury.
However, captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, halfback Shaun Johnson and second rower Tohu Harris did not make the trip to Denver and should be fresh for the Sharks clash. Prop Adam Blair is suspended.
The only injury of note from the Denver Test was Canterbury second rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner, who sustained a broken hand in his New Zealand debut.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor will assess interchange forward Leeson Ah Mau before deciding whether he plays in Thursday night’s match against Parramatta at WIN Stadium, along with England pair Gareth Widdop and James Graham.
Widdop, Graham, Canberra second rower Elliott Whitehead and South Sydney’s Sam and Thomas Burgess arrived in Sydney on Monday morning after flying from Denver immediately after the Test on Saturday (Sunday, 6am AEST).
The Test was played in 31 degrees heat but Denver was hit by an electrical storm on Sunday as the temperature plummeted from 18 degrees to eight degrees at 2pm, producing golf-ball sized hailstones that covered the ground like snow.