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Ardern looking into Warriors duo's travel ban

The NRL will continue direct dialogue with Jacinda Adern's office as it bids for an exemption to the immigration ban on Warriors rookies Eliesa Katoa and Selestino Ravutaumada returning to New Zealand.

The two 20-year-olds have been told by New Zealand border control they will not be permitted to re-enter the country under revised COVID-19 rules because they are not Kiwi citizens.

Tongan-born Katoa and Fijian Ravutaumada have lived in New Zealand for three and four years respectively on work visas, but face being stranded in Australia when their teammates return home.

The NRL's head of government relations Jaymes Boland-Rudder has been negotiating with the New Zealand prime minister's office for several weeks to get the bans on Katoa and Ravutaumada lifted.

Adern said the situation was being revised when questioned by reporters on Thursday.

"From what I’ve been briefed on, that’s a matter that’s still looking to be resolved," Ms Arden said.

Selestino Ravutaumada on the run for the Warriors at the 2020 NRL Nines in Perth.
Selestino Ravutaumada on the run for the Warriors at the 2020 NRL Nines in Perth. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"But I think it just demonstrates the complexity of issues at our border.

"Of course, citizens, permanent residents are able to come straight through. Those who are on visas, but there are economic reasons for them being here, that takes a bit more of a process.

"I understand that’s a case still being worked through."

NRL officials were able to secure necessary exemptions in May for Warriors players, and later some family members, to travel to Australia to keep the 2020 competition alive.

But the latest development has stunned the two young Warriors and club hierarchy given Katoa and Ravutaumada are facing being locked out of their adopted country because they only hold Tongan and Fijian passports respectively.

Ravutaumada's situation is complicated further by a season-ending shoulder injury that requires surgery and the fact he is off contract.

Warriors CEO Cameron George has already assured the pair they will be put up at his family home if they are not allowed to return to New Zealand.

On Wednesday George appealed for the NZ government to review the situation given neither player has any family this side of the Tasman.

"We've been advised that they won't be permitted entry back into the country due to their status, which is devastating for us to hear," George told

"… Prior to leaving this country to go to Australia to carry out their employment, they were like any citizen of New Zealand.

"They’ve got the appropriate visas to be in New Zealand, they’ve got everything that you need to live in New Zealand and it’s easily demonstrated that they’re residents here, because they’ve been here for years and gone to school here.

"So what are we going to do? Drop them off and leave them on the shores of Australia?

"I call on the New Zealand government to review and reconsider this."

Meanwhile, the Warriors look unlikely to sign Toronto Wolfpack star Ricky Leutele on a short-term deal.

Interim coach Todd Payten said the centre would only come if he was afforded the same exemption as Sonny Bill Williams.

Ricky Leutele is tackled playing for Toronto earlier this year.
Ricky Leutele is tackled playing for Toronto earlier this year. ©

As it stands, players cannot hold simultaneous contracts with two competitions - and Leutele is unwilling to terminate his lucrative Wolfpack deal, which runs until 2021, for a brief Australian return.

ARL chairman Peter V'Landys indicated on Monday that Williams would be allowed to join the Roosters for the rest of the season due to the "extraordinary circumstances" of cash-strapped Toronto withdrawing from Super League in 2020.

If the same applies to Leutele, as Payten expects, then the coach would love to have the former Cronulla Shark join the Warriors at their Central Coast base to provide a boost to close out their tough campaign.

Should the Warriors look to lock up Hetherington long term?

"We've made some enquiries [with Leutele] but he's not going to leave a really, really healthy contract if things aren't sorted properly in terms of rulings from the NRL," Payten said on Wednesday.

"I don't know where that stands at the moment. It could be sorted, it might not be, but he's on a rich contract over there. And for him to come over to us, he'll get about five games in and not for a great amount of money, so I can understand where he's coming from.

"So we're just seeking some clarity around that. I've read a couple of headlines that they'll bend the rules for Sonny Bill, but we're just waiting for confirmation. I expect it'd be across the board."

Asked whether he would be excited to see Williams return to the NRL even though it won't be for the Warriors, Payten jokingly deadpanned: "No".

"I said the other day I think he would've added value [to the Warriors], but I don't want to give it too much energy because I don't think he was ever really serious," Payten said.

"We did make a small enquiry but it was down the track with the Roosters, which is understandable. It is good to see him back."

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