The NRL is expecting federal and NSW government exemptions on Friday that would allow the New Zealand Warriors to enter the country and be based in Tamworth ahead of a competition restart on May 28. The Warriors players have refused to travel until a pay deal is agreed, and have support from their peers in Australia.
Some of the game’s most senior figures, including Melbourne captain Cameron Smith, backed the Warriors’ stance in an emotion-charged phone hook-up between the players on Wednesday night, preparing not to show for Monday’s mandatory biosecurity and protocols briefing.
It was agreed in the meeting of RLPA club delegates that no players would return before the NRL announced how much the players would be paid for the rest of the year, a decision that the players had agreed to keep from their clubs.
When contacted by the Herald on Thursday morning, one club chief executive said he was unaware of the proposed boycott. Clubs were also waiting for the NRL to finalise the broadcast deal for their own plans.
Warriors players Blake Green, Adam Blair and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck spoke on behalf of their teammates when they reiterated that they wouldn’t leave New Zealand, even with an exemption to enter Australia, until the pay structure was agreed.
The Warriors have spent the past month in lockdown under New Zealand government restrictions, and aren’t willing to take a chance on having to spend 14 days in isolation if the NRL is unable to strike a deal. That would leave them in limbo, away from their families, facing another 14 days of strict isolation back in New Zealand if the competition is delayed.
While the NRL is confident it will get the necessary approvals to start the 20-round season on May 28, the Warriors will not leave it to chance. As reported by the Herald on Thursday morning, Channel Nine has indicated to the NRL it wants to pay $90 million of the $118 million it is contracted to pay in 2020.
The game is bracing for a combined $60 million shortfall between Nine and Fox Sports, and the players were demanding to know how much of an impact that would have on their salaries before they considered leaving their families for five months.
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Michael Chammas is a sports reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald