28 May 2020

Warriors given unique chance in 2020 - Bidwell

1:52 pm on 28 May 2020

Opinion - At least the New Zealand Warriors can't blame travel anymore.

The New Zealand Warriors train at Central Coast Stadium.

The Warriors training at Central Coast Stadium ahead of the revamped 2020 NRL season. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

It's amazing to think the National Rugby League season is actually re-starting today.

Beyond all the Covid-19-related hurdles that had to be cleared, in order for the competition to resume, it felt safe to assume a player would simply let the side down.

One or two tried, by breaking Australia's lockdown regulations or fibbing about it afterwards, but the path to this point has largely been without bumps.

In some part, that's due to the Warriors. No team has sacrificed more to enable the competition to go ahead and the goodwill that's generated should be an asset to the side.

No-one expects a thing from the Warriors this season. By leaving their families behind and relocating first to Tamworth and now Gosford, they've earned the admiration of many a rugby league fan.

While one or two players at other clubs baulked at taking flu vaccinations, the Warriors and coaching staff all took their jabs, kissed their families goodbye and set off for Australia.

They didn't whinge or drag their feet; they just accepted that these are unique and difficult circumstances and put the common good ahead of their own.

That was the hard part. After that, the footy - starting against St George Illawarra on Saturday - should be a doddle.

In absolute fairness to the Warriors, having to play in Australia every other week must have its challenges.

But, while we are being fair, it's also not the main reason why the club have endured so many failed campaigns.

Some years they've had the talent, but not the will. This time around they look five or six players short of a competitive outfit, but that's no reason to assume they won't do any good.

Their situation brings to mind the Crusaders Super Rugby team of 2011, who spent that season on the road after the February earthquake that demolished Christchurch and killed 185 people.

One or two shakes are enough to spook most people. Cantabrians endured thousands, dating back to the first significant earthquake in September 2010.

The Crusaders played home games as far afield as London in 2011 and finally succumbed to the Reds in the final, having flown into Brisbane from a semifinal in Cape Town.

A title would have been fitting reward for a group of men who'd sacrificed so much, but coming second still doesn't diminish the enormity of their achievement that season.

The Warriors aren't the star-studded side that the Crusaders were then, they don't have a long-established winning culture.

But what they do have an opportunity to do something extraordinary and to turn their adverse circumstances into a unifying force.

We all felt for them after their round one loss to Newcastle. Not only had they been dusted up 20-0, but they returned to the dressing sheds to find they weren't going home.

At that stage we all feared mass deaths from the coronavirus and, in a situation where the Warriors' players and their families were scared, the NRL effectively kept them apart.

Eventually they got home and did their 14 days in quarantine. Lockdown was next and now, despite plenty of dire predictions at the time, they're about to start playing again.

The worst part for them is over. Sure, this season might have become the road trip to end all road trips, but at least the team can play without fear.

People are grateful to have the Warriors involved and, frankly, now expect nothing from them.

Results, for one of the few times, really don't matter and the players can play with the freedom that entails.

It's hard to perform when your coach and club are under constant scrutiny. Well, no-one's going to call for Stephen Kearney's head this year.

Everyone assumes that the odds are stacked against the Warriors and that their hopes of playing finals football are remote.

This is a never-to-be-repeated opportunity for the team to be based in Australia and to play without fear of criticism.

To be a team - together and united - and to achieve things that no-one could have expected.

What a story that would be.

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