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Australian Jillaroos coach Brad Donald will take on a caretaker role as Warriors NRLW coach for the side's expected relocation to Australia for the 2020 competition.

Donald, who has overseen the Australian national side since 2016, will replace Slade Griffin this year after the former Knights hooker was unable to commit to a move to Australia for the six-week period.

Griffin was in line to replace inaugural Warriors coach Luisa Avaiki in July and had begun the recruitment search for players across New Zealand.

At least six current Warriors players have agreed to take part in this year's competition and will link with Donald in Sydney, where the NRLW is also likely to be played in its entirety.

Honey Hireme headlines the guaranteed starters alongside Kanyon Paul, Madison Bartlett, Crystal Tamarua, Georgia Hale and Hilda Peters.

While he was initially surprised to be offered the role, Donald said it was an easy and exciting decision to make in the interests of the women’s game in New Zealand and Australia.

The Warriors took on the Dragons in a standalone NRLW game in Auckland in 2019.
The Warriors took on the Dragons in a standalone NRLW game in Auckland in 2019. ©NRL Photos

"It was definitely unexpected and there are still some challenges ahead, but it’s a wonderful opportunity that Cameron [George], the NZRL, the players and entire Warriors organisation have not only given me, but all the female players from New Zealand and Australia," he said.

"I also want to acknowledge Slade for the work he has already done in what should've been his first year as a NRLW head coach.

"Ultimately though, none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for the players. The ones sacrificing time away from family, careers and the comforts of home to keep the competition going, as well as those who couldn’t for those very same reasons. Their selflessness won’t go unappreciated or unrecognised.

"We look forward to getting the group together to ensure that everyone understands the sacrifices made to pull on a Warriors jersey in 2020. This will be a unique opportunity for those involved, and we will be doing everything possible from this point forward to build a very successful NRLW premiership campaign."

Part of the Warriors players' travelling commitments will include a 14-day quarantine on arrival to Australia. 

The remaining spots in the squad are expected to be made up of players in the NSW Harvey Norman Premiership and Queensland's Holcim Cup, who Donald has strong knowledge on as part of his leading role with the national side.

"We’re extremely grateful we’ve been able to secure a coach of Brad’s calibre to coach our side in these challenging circumstances," said Warriors CEO Cameron George.

"The shape of our campaign has been severely impacted by the continuing COVID-19 crisis but having Brad to take on the role is a real coup.

"We’ve really appreciated being able to work closely with [NZRL general manager high performance] Motu Tony and the NZRL to bring this about.

"There’s still much work to be done including securing travel exemptions for players and staff from New Zealand to enter Australia but Brad’s appointment is hugely exciting."

Donald's appointment follows confirmation his Jillaroos assistant coach, Jamie Feeney, will take on the Sydney Roosters' main role this season.  

Project Apollo officials are also finalising details around COVID-19 border restrictions for the Brisbane Broncos and Queensland-based players who may link with the Warriors, Roosters, or Dragons.

St George Illawarra will hold an induction day for their squad on Sunday in the hope of starting training next week with just over a month until the competition is due to begin.

The Warriors’ New Zealand-based contingent is due to fly to Australia in early September.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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