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How Warriors hurdled countless obstacles to jump on plane

A plane that actually fits Tamworth airport's runway, because the original chartered aircraft was too heavy for the country town's domestic airport.

A police escort on arrival.

Every employee from CEO Cameron George and coach Stephen Kearney accepting pay cuts in a bid to help the club avoid redundancies.

Senior players Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Blake Green, Adam Blair and Tohu Harris turning around and donating their own cash back to the club to help out the front-office staff.

A month in lockdown. Another two weeks in quarantine.

Childcare and school arrangements. Welfare support for family and partners.

Immigration departments. Players unions. Medical officers.

The Warriors have cleared each hurdle as though running 3000 metres of Olympic steeplechase.

"This will be the greatest story in rugby league when we come to Australia and kick your ass," George wrote when he signed off an email to Peter V'landys earlier this week.

Tamworth's Scully Park.
Tamworth's Scully Park. ©NRL Photos

With another five months of a revised competition to come, the Warriors' 2020 odyssey is only just beginning.

But it's been a hell of an opening act.

"It's been a really challenging few weeks," George said on Saturday shortly after official government approval for the club's arrival in Australia was granted.

"It was a relief for club. Our club's been front and centre of a lot of discussion, a lot of speculation, and a lot of challenges.

"To get that notification only 24 hours before we're due to depart was a big relief for our club and our players.

"They're excited about what lays ahead now and it's really good that the guys can just focus on the job at hand and we can move on."

Gratitude is going out in all directions. ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys and his staff, who have led government discussions and health protocols.

The NRL's head of government and community relations, Jaymes Boland-Rudder, who secured clearances for the club's departure from New Zealand, and the exemption from Australian Border Force officials for the Warriors to touch down.

Those same governments for clearing the red tape.

Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson and mayor Col Murray, the town's Wests Leagues CEO Rod Laing and local businessman Craig Power.

Australia's country music capital is now Warriors territory.

Kearney's squad will train out of the $2 million Scully Park facilities and the adjoining Wests Leagues club, staying in the three-storey Mercure Hotel.

An army of Wests staff have swung into action and turned their events centre into a gym, the carpark into a basketball court, their kitchen revamped to cater to 36 elite footballers 24 hours a day.

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Protocols from the NRL's extensive biosecurity document have been ensured by Laing, with staff entry points, times and temperatures all logged and monitored.

"Rod Laing has been instrumental in setting up exclusions from any contact with the outside world," George said.

"We've had regional health services inspect the facility. We've had all the protocols reviewed and implemented.

"It's an amazing set-up. I have no doubt we're not jeopardising the player's health or the community's at the centre."

All of which will be put to good use now the Warriors have tracked down a plane that won't bust Tamworth airport's runway.

"The aircraft that we had booked last week was too heavy for the runway," George revealed, just the latest logistic hurdle in a month chock full of them.

"So we had to change plans very quickly and we had to go to another aircraft size and shape, which meant we had to start sending gear over separately during the course of the week."

Tamworth hosted the Wests Tigers v Titans clash in round seven last year.
Tamworth hosted the Wests Tigers v Titans clash in round seven last year. ©NRL Photos

The challenges will keep coming, of course.

The club hopes to have players' families cleared to join them on the Central Coast, where the Warriors will relocate in mid-May, over the next month.

Better yet, a trans-Tasman bubble could allow them to work from home like the rest of us.

But on both the home fronts and Warriors' front line, welfare and support remains key. And should a player need to return home, compassionate relief is a possibility.

"We'll have in-house wellbeing officers," George said.

"The NRL have arranged for an Australian-based wellbeing officer to be within quarantine with our team and stay for the duration of our stay in Australia.

"Back here in New Zealand we'll have extensive services provided to the families 24/7.

"That will be by our own club staff. I'm very comfortable that our players and families will be well catered for.

"If things change for personal reasons for individuals on a case-by-case basis, we can make an application to the NRL [for relief] particularly on compassionate grounds ... The NRL are prepared to look at applications from our club, [which] is a good assurance for us."

Throughout the past six weeks - unlike any in the Warriors' or rugby league's history - George, Kearney and club staff have worked non-stop to keep their players in the competition.

Their first game from May 28, finally a welcome hurdle.

Acknowledgement of Country

Melbourne Storm respect and honour 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.