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Sharks prop Braden Hamlin-Uele.

Sharks prop Braden Hamlin-Uele has revealed how he spent the summer training in Auckland after struggling with the NRL’s strict biosecurity protocols last season.

Hamlin-Uele lived alone and had little social interaction outside of training and games so Cronulla officials agreed to let him return home for three months to spend time with his family.

The 26-year-old’s parents and grandmother had been in Sydney for last year’s opening round clash with Souths when the New Zealand border was closed due to COVID-19. They had to rush home.

With a trans-Tasman travel bubble yet to be introduced, Hamlin-Uele was unsure when he could visit his family as anyone entering New Zealand is required to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

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Heading into Sunday's match between Cronulla and the Dragons at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Hamlin-Uele said the trip home was just what he needed.

"With the way the world is now and not being sure when I could go home again I was so grateful for the club allowing me to do that and it gave me a chance to refresh," Hamlin-Uele said.

"2020 was a tough year for a lot of people so let’s hope we don’t have to go back to that this year.

"Living on my own and not being able to do much was mentally challenging so I just had to FaceTime or Zoom call my family whenever I could."

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While absent from Cronulla’s pre-season training, Hamlin-Uele was given a fitness program. He used the facilities of his junior club, Glenora Bears.

Brothers Caleb and Wyatt trained with Hamlin-Uele and they are now living with him and playing for Glebe Dirty Reds in the NSWRL's Ron Massey Cup.

Hamlin-Uele said Sharks officials kept tabs on his progress but he insisted there was no chance he would slacken off after establishing himself as one of the club’s leading props in recent seasons.

"I was there for 12 weeks so that was probably the longest anyone in the whole comp was away I guess," Hamlin-Uele said.

"They monitored me by Zoom calls and they sent me schedules of what they were doing and they expected me to do it too.

"I knew that if I came back underdone I was going to get found out so I just made sure I stayed on top of training and did everything they asked me to do and they were happy with the way I came back so that was good."

Hamlin-Uele spent 14 days in managed quarantine before being able to see his family but knew the sacrifice would be worth it.

We, as a club, should be thankful to the government and the Apollo team that let us play

Sharks prop Braden Hamlin-Uele

Upon being released from his Auckland hotel he went to his parent’s house for a homecoming dinner with extended family members.

"It was good to see everyone after so long," Hamlin-Uele said. "My mum and dad and grandmother were here last year when New Zealand announced the border was closing.

"It was insane. They had to fly back or they would have been stuck here for months because New Zealand went straight to Level 4 [lockdown].

"I think everyone is keeping safe now so hopefully we can get that trans-Tasman travel bubble going soon.

“When I went over there it was Level 2 so it was a bit more free. The two weeks in quarantine was a breeze. I could get out of my room and sit on what they called the 'smokers’ deck'.

"I was just there to do some people watching and not be confined to my room. I was able to just get out and walk around so it was good."

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is Cronulla’s No.1 supporter, thanked the players at the club’s season launch for abiding by the tough living conditions last season.

Despite his own personal struggles, Hamlin-Uele said players were grateful to the government and the NRL for enabling the competition to resume in May.

"It was nice to hear that but I don’t think we needed to be thanked for it. We, as a club, should be thankful to the government and the Apollo team that let us play," he said.

"We were the first sport in the world to get up and running and as a player in the NRL we should be grateful for that opportunity.

"We just did what we were supposed to, acted correctly and the message at our club was ‘don’t be the reason to stop this whole comp’. It made us focus on work a lot more."


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