Coronavirus: Warriors, Phoenix returning home, as Australian sports leagues close down

Both NZ Warriors and Wellington Phoenix are preparing to return to New Zealand, as both their Australian national competitions are suspended, due to coronavirus.

The NRL brought a halt to its season on Monday night, while the A-League followed suit on Tuesday morning.

The Warriors were NRL heroes last week, when they committed to playing out the rest of the season, but completed two games - losses to Newcastle Knights and Canberra Raiders - before play was called off indefinitely.

Their predicament worsened on Monday, when Queensland closed its borders to interstate travel, with New South Wales expected to follow suit on Tuesday. The Warriors were based at Kingscliff, near the northern NSW border, but scheduled to play 'home' games at the Gold Coast's Cbus Stadium.

With other teams across four states, travel between games had become increasingly compromised and Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V'landys conceded player safety could "no longer be guaranteed". 

"Our players will be on a charter flight back to New Zealand today," an exhausted Warriors chief executive Cameron George told Trackside Radio.

"That's really been the focus, since the announcement last night - just getting the players back to their families asap - and we've been able to organise that overnight.

"This isn't just about us - it's devastating for the country and different industries. I feel the pain for everyone at the moment - the racing industry, our sport, other sports, other commercial industries.

"It's just unfortunate. I think we were putting some smiles on people's faces by playing during this period, but it's also we don't jeopardise our players, and their safety and wellbeing."

On Sunday, 'Aussie Rules' announced its season was on hold, when other state lockdowns made continuation impractical. The AFL has teams in five states, including farflung Western Australia.

Once it pulled the plug, fingers were pointed at the NRL for continuing to put its players - and the wider community - at risk.

Once NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took the country to 'Level Three' coronavirus alert, moving to Level Four within 48 hours, George knew the game was up.

"I feel a bit of relief for those guys and their families. There were a lot of families very nervous yesterday afternoon, like the public, but with their loved ones stuck in another country... they were certainly communicating with me about their concerns.

"But also, it's part of the reality for everyone at the moment - there's no normality and we've just got to manage our way through it, like everyone else."

George hopes the competition can restart this season, but is resigned to the Warriors not playing in New Zealand, if that happens.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix have been self-isolated in Sydney for more than a week, waiting to resume their A-League campaign, albeit with a condensed schedule and empty stadiums. 

They are now fleeing Australia, back to the NZ capital, with international players allowed back into the country, despite foreign travel restrictions. Aussies Luke DeVere, Reno Piscopo, Jaushua Sotirio and Brandon Wilson have opted to stay across the Tasman for the time being.

"We didn't want to subject the players and staff to the risk of being stranded in Australia for an indefinite period of time," said general manager David Dome.

"The players, staff and management were 100 percent committed to doing the best it could this season, and playing out as much of the A-League season as was possible. Their positive attitude and dedication is a tribute to them, as was the support of the families, fans and club's corporate partners."

The Phoenix sat third on the competition ladder, with 11 wins and three draws from their 20 games, well on track for their highest-ever regular season finish and  sixth playoff appearance in their 13-year history.

"This was an incredible season for the Wellington Phoenix and even though it has been postponed, it was still our highest finish to date," said Dome.

"While we're disappointed at the postponement, the right to do now is to get everyone home to their loved ones during this unprecedented time of crisis."