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'Couldn't keep lying to the kids': Ah Mau hunts deal after family-first call

Lily-Rose Ah Mau is only four, soon to be five, but she's pretty sharp already.

After two months of daily FaceTime calls across the Tasman, she was already calling her dad out.

So when Warriors players and staff were called to a club meeting on the Gold Coast, and told the looming closure of the New Zealand government's travel bubble made it a case of return home immediately or indefinitely, Leeson Ah Mau sat stock-still in shock.

By dinner time that day the 31-year-old warhorse was going home, his Warriors career cut short by COVID-19 restrictions.

"I couldn't keep lying to the kids," Ah Mau says simply of his decision to leave the Warriors' Queensland hub on personal grounds.

"I'd be telling them I was coming home, but I didn't know when and my four-year-old is pretty sharp, she'd be into to me, saying I wasn't keeping my promise.

"She was pretty over me at that point.

"We had the meeting in the morning and with no guarantee of when we were going to be home, and talk it could've been November or December, it all unfolded so quickly.

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"I spoke to Browny [coach Nathan Brown] and Cam [CEO Cameron George] at dinner time that night and everyone was really understanding about my situation.

"The Warriors were so good about everything and I was lucky enough to have my family come over when we were based in Terrigal.

"They went home in the bye weekend and then we moved up to Brisbane with the rest of the competition. We were all sweet with that, but if I'd stayed, the way we were talking about December, family just has to come first and it's always going to be my number one priority.

"There's a lot of people who are in much worse positions than us, I don't want to be ungrateful at all, it was just the choice we faced and I'd make the same call again."

While former Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck returned to New Zealand a month ago with a NZ Rugby and Auckland Blues contract kicking off, Ah Mau made the same journey into the NRL's great unknown.

Ah Mau and his management were told earlier in the year his Warriors deal wouldn't be extended in 2022, prompting many to assume his NRL career was coming to an end after 223 games across 13 seasons with the Warriors, Cowboys and Dragons.

A daily routine of kindergarten pick-ups and drop-offs around lengthy training sessions says otherwise.

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"I'm definitely not retiring," Ah Mau says.

"I was coming home for the family reasons. I want to keep playing and I know that means moving overseas to Australia.

I'm still training hard and making sure I'm ready for whatever chance I can get.

"We'll have to talk as a family for sure and sort that out, but I'd be committed for sure, we'd be coming over again and be in Oz for an entire season or whatever I could get."

Several clubs remain on the hunt for a big-man bargain in 2022, most notably the Broncos, while the Knights are another outfit in the market for forward depth as well.

Ah Mau knows he won't command a contract like his previous deal at the Warriors and isn't chasing one, just the opportunity to keep playing.

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"I'd like to think my experience is a selling point," he says.

"I've been lucky enough to play a very long time in the NRL and I've still got a lot to offer, I'd like to pass on some things I've learned along the way.

"I tell some of the Warriors young blokes we used to have 12 interchanges and I used to play against this coach and that coach and they're stunned.

"It's a very different game now in the middle, It means a really different level of fitness and much harder training, but I'm loving it.

"I've still got that fire and passion to keep going."