Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and his teammates were emotional upon learning he can make a farewell appearance when the club returns to New Zealand for a first home match since 2019.
Tuivasa-Sheck is switching to rugby union at the end of 2021 and feared he would never get to play in front of the club’s home fans again. On top of that, some newer members of the Warriors club have never been to Mt Smart Stadium.
Boom rookie Reece Walsh is among those ensuring his passport is in order to travel to Auckland for the round 22 match against Canterbury on August 15 – almost two years since the Warriors last home game.
Warriors CEO Cameron George said the club had hoped to return home for the August 7 clash with Cronulla and even considered playing at Wellington’s Sky Stadium as Mt Smart and Eden Park were already booked but felt their first match should be in Auckland.
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"This is step one of getting back to normality next year, so we are extremely excited and just pumped to get home to our fans," George said.
"I am hoping and anticipating this will be a highly sought after ticket in town and it should be because we are going to have a great day out at Mt Smart Stadium to celebrate, and it is a farewell to Roger in our colours at Mt Smart as well, which is significant in itself.
"We are hopeful that we will sell-out. This is an exciting, emotional, history-making occasion for our club and our fans and sports lovers should come and enjoy it because it has been well over 700 days since we last played there.
This is step one of getting back to normality next yearWarriors CEO Cameron George
"We want this to be a celebration and we want this also to be a celebration of Roger being the player and person he has been at our club to farewell him in fine fashion and worthy style, which is a sell-out crowd."
While many of the Warriors players have their partners and children with them on the Central Coast this year, not all do and most of the staff have also been away from their families in New Zealand since January 3.
George said the players had been emotional when he told them that the NRL and the Bulldogs had agreed they could play at Mt Smart Stadium.
"This is a big thing for these guys," George said.
"Led by Roger, there is a little bit of emotion there that this is actually finally going to happen and for Roger, I guess, it carries a little bit more weight, with potentially his last home game at Mt Smart Stadium.
"You could see the local guys really appreciate the opportunity to go back and you could see the new guys extremely excited about what it means to us as a club and to them as players, and also to our fans back home.
"All in all, they are extremely emotional and excited."
Facilities at Mt Smart Stadium have been renovated since Mark Robinson and his company Autex Industries took control of the club in late 2019, but never used by the Warriors for a home match.
"There are a lot of players and staff who have not entered into our home ground or offices or training facility at this point in time so we have got to go through a bit of an induction period and then after that the boys have got to get to work," George said.
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"The club as a whole has made huge sacrifices to keep the competition going during the COVID-19 pandemic but it’s our families, members and fans back home in New Zealand who have suffered the most through not being able to connect with their team. Their continued support and patience has been incredible.
"Our special thanks go to the NRL for providing ongoing support. We can’t say enough about what they’ve done for us over the last two seasons."
The Warriors announced that tickets for the match would go on sale for members from 3pm on Thursday.