Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
After being away from home for two and a half years, the Vodafone Warriors finally made the trip back home to Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland. With Covid-19 being a major disruption in the NRL for the past two seasons, the team had to make Australia their home to keep the competition alive. Players and management had to sacrifice seeing their families back in New Zealand as they continued with the season.
However, problems began to emerge within the Warriors camp during the two seasons as the club struggled with coaching issues while the team plummeted down the ladder board. Some big signings also bid farewell to the club. It put a lot of pressure on the leaders in the team to step up to overcome the obstacles.
“It was difficult to not have that support that you get at home,” says Warrior’s lock Jazz Tevaga.
“I read a lot of things where they were saying that we get paid a lot of money. But after a tough night all you want to do is to come home and be with the ones you love and decompress”.
Aside from their performances on field, players were beginning to be homesick especially among the younger ones in the camp. Tongan second rower Eliesa Katoa had only been in the team the previous season before the Covid-19 disruptions. Being away from home began to dawn on him as he suffered from a couple of mid-season injuries. For him, the homecoming was an opportunity for him to refresh as a player and to fuel his motivation for the second half of the season.
“It’s always hard being away from family and stuff. They’re a big part of us islanders and they support us every step of the way. So, to be back here is special and everyone’s excited,” Katoa says.
This year, the Warriors were on a seven-game losing streak before the trip back home. Coach Nathan Brown also exited the club a few weeks prior to the trip home adding to the pressures on or the club. Former Warriors playmaker and assistant coach Stacey Jones stepped into the role of head coach as the search for a new coach began once again.
So In front of a sold-out Mt Smart Stadium crowd, the Warriors powered their way through the West Tigers clinching a 22-2 victory for the delighted fans. Utility back Chanel Harris Tavita played a pivotal role in the homecoming victory, replacing Reece Welsh at fullback on late notice. Tavita ran in one try for the Warriors and looked comfortable with his aerial skills.
The effort and resilience shown within the team was courageous, which was an area that Tavita and Tevaga had emphasized before the game.
“Not just for myself but also for the team, I think we need to focus on effort. Less about tactics and turning up for each other when times are tough cause that’s what we’ve been doing the past few years. We’ve supported each other on and off field,” Tavita said.
“Everyone makes errors,” said Tevaga.
“Difference is, that the good teams defend it, and we haven’t been doing much of that this season. We’ve spoken about it in being resilient and defending these errors”.
The win against the West Tigers placed the Warriors 13th on the ladder. The team will return back to Mt Smart Stadium on the 29th of this month to face the almighty Melbourne Storm.