'Grown men in tears': Heartbreaking reality of NRL's virus dilemma

The Warriors will decide again next week whether or not they will remain in Australia amid reports the players have voted to return home to New Zealand.

The Warriors have gone into camp in Kingscliff with a view to host Canberra on the Gold Coast next Sunday, after the New Zealand government implemented a 14-day isolation policy for overseas travellers.

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However similar rules put in place by the Australian government to stem the spread of the coronavirus on Sunday have thrown another spanner in the works for the NRL, with the players’ families now effectively locked out of Australia.

Players Peta Hiku and Patrick Herbert have however returned home to New Zealand for family reasons, and the Warriors have left some reserve graders in Australia for cover.

But the new self-isolation policy means no more players will be able to be flown across in the case of further injuries.

Warriors players, pictured here looking dejected during their loss to Newcastle.
Warriors players look dejected during their round 1 loss to Newcastle. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

The NRL had also planned to fly families across for players, but that and the arrival of further club staff is now also off the cards given none are booked in for travel on Sunday.

“We'll make some big decisions at the end of the week, and it will be based on family and player outcomes,” Warriors boss Cameron George said on Sunday.

“There was a lot of devastated players there yesterday, grown men with tears in their eyes because it is really a difficult period to endure.

“It's a reality (not being able to play in the competition). It's on the table, we get through this weekend and we've got to make a decision with the players.

“Do we continue to do this week-by-week scenario? Or if the players want to choose to come home they come home.

“That could change during the week; some of the players could want to come home during the week.”

Pita Hiku, pictured here speaking to media after returning to New Zealand.
Pita Hiku speaks to media after returning to New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

George conceded on Sunday it was unlikely his club would host a game in New Zealand this year.

ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys also admitted the squad couldn't stay in Australia for the whole year.

Speaking before the Australian government's announcement, V'landys hoped the New Zealand government could change its policy which is next up for review on March 30.

The NRL has meanwhile made contact with Warriors' apparel supplier Canterbury for more gear, given they only brought enough clothes over for Saturday's loss to Newcastle.

Players will also be paid an allowance by the NRL while they stay abroad.

NRL players anxious for health of families

But it’s not just the Warriors who have to worry about their families.

Rugby League Players Association chief executive Ian Prendergast on Sunday revealed multiple players are anxious about having to travel to keep the season alive as well as the health of their families.

While V'landys has said players are healthy and at low risk of serious illness even if they do contract coronavirus, players are worried their vulnerable families could be directly affected.

The RLPA is working closely with club delegates to ensure players views are represented in decisions being made by the NRL during the uncertain coronavirus pandemic.

However, Prendergast told AAP on Sunday that players are anxious about what it will take to keep playing in round two without crowds and how that will affect their families.

“There's a decent level of anxiety among them, particularly around travel as opposed to playing in front of empty stadiums,” he said.

“It's not really about their health but in relation to the health of their young families or grandparents, and it's natural for them to have those concerns.

“We're doing everything we can to give them as much information as the NRL is privy to from government experts.”

Benji Marshall, pictured here with his wife and daughter.
Benji Marshall is among numerous NRL players with young families. Image: Getty

Cameron Smith calls for season to be suspended

Cameron Smith echoed that sentiment later on Sunday, calling for the NRL to be suspended for a few weeks.

The game's biggest name does not believe the show should go on, claiming he is speaking on behalf of his Storm teammates when calling for the competition to be stopped.

“This thing is bigger than rugby league,” Smith said.

“This affects more than just rugby league and rugby league players ... after finishing these matches on weekends, we go back to our families.

“There are several players in our squad who are going back to their families who have newborn babies.

“Craig (Bellamy) has an elderly mother. My parents are in their 60s. Craig is in his sixties. But listening to medical advice, he is in the risk bracket.

“If we make a decision to suspend the competition for a couple of weeks, it gives everyone an opportunity to sum up the situation a lot better rather than being reactive daily or hourly.”