'Never leave our own behind': Jacinda Ardern urged to fix NRL mess

·4-min read
Seen here, young Warriors player Eliesa Katoa has been blocked to return home to New Zealand.
Eliesa Katoa is one of two Warriors players blocked from returning to family in New Zealand when the NRL season finishes. Pic: Getty

The New Zealand Warriors have sacrificed so much to ensure the NRL season can push on in the face of the coronavirus crisis.

However, a heartbreaking scenario has unfolded that's left the club "devastated" and they're calling on New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to do something about it.

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The Warriors have been left shattered by the fact rising stars Eliesa Katoa and Selestino Ravutaumada have been blocked from returning to New Zealand indefinitely.

Chief executive Cameron George confirmed the NZ government wouldn't allow the two 20-year-olds to return home under its COVID-19 restrictions, in which only Kiwi citizens could enter.

It is a body blow in a tumultuous season for the club, who had received exemption from Australian officials to base themselves across the Tasman for the entire NRL season.

The Warriors were unsuccessful in their attempts to gain exemptions for the players' families to move out from New Zealand with their loved ones.

It's meant the club's stars have had to live away from their wives, partners, children and family members for months, with several stars already returning home because the burden was too much to bear.

George said no leeway had been granted to allow Tongan-born second-rower Katoa and Fijian-born Ravutaumada to return, leaving him to make plans for the pair to remain in Australia when the rest of the squad flew back at the end of the season.

"We've been advised that they won't be permitted entry back into the country due to their status, which is devastating for us to hear," George told stuff.co.nz.

Pictured here, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern addresses members of the media.
New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern has been urged to help the Warriors players out. Pic: Getty

"The kids have been schooling here (NZ) for a number of years, contributing to the economy in many different ways, have had the credentials and authorisation to live in New Zealand with their visas and they're over there representing our country in the NRL.

"What are we going to do with them now? They've got no family in Australia and it's just another major bump in our road for 2020."

George called on NZ immigration officials to review the situation.

"I'm just incredibly confused by this. These guys have been living in confinement for three months - they're no risk at all," he said.

"They'd go through quarantine, isolation, all of the appropriate procedures, with the rest of the team. I'm just devastated with the system.

“I call on the New Zealand government to review and reconsider this.”

Young stars live and went to school in New Zealand

The Warriors boss' pleas were echoed by Kiwi cricket legend Brendon McCullum, who tagged the New Zealand PM in a passionate social media post.

“This needs sorted! Let’s do something about this PM @jacindaardern. Never leave our own behind.”

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Rookie Katoa has emerged as one of the club's most-promising players in recent seasons, signing a four-year extension in May on the back of his blockbusting early performances.

Like Ravutaumada, he was lured to New Zealand in his teens on a college rugby union scholarship before being spotted by Warriors scouts.

Ravutaumada, who is yet to play first grade, has represented the Junior Kiwis.

George said the club had been surprised to learn of their status, which only came light recently when long-term planning for flights home began.

“Prior to leaving this country to go to Australia to carry out their employment, they were like any citizen of New Zealand,” George said.

“They’ve got the appropriate visas to be in New Zealand, they’ve got everything that you need to live in New Zealand and it’s easily demonstrated that they’re residents here, because they’ve been here for years and gone to school here.

“Yet our border officials say they’re not New Zealand residents. I know by definition they need to be citizens, but three months ago they were all of the above.”

with AAP