NRL 2020: Timeline of NZ Warriors' tragedy, suffering during COVID-19 season

NZ Warriors have completed easily their toughest NRL season to date and, boy, they've had some challenges. 

The uncertainty surrounding coronavirus, a reduced season and massive injury toll mean every team has had their struggles, but they don't compare to the Warriors - and you could even extend that to other sporting teams in the world. 

After their win over Canterbury Bulldogs three weeks ago, coach Todd Payten spoke about the adversity the team had to overcome just to complete the season. 

"At the moment, every 3-4 days, there is a hurdle or obstacle that we have to go up against, so looking at 4-5 weeks ahead is almost suicidal."

He's not wrong. 

Since the moment, New Zealand closed its borders, the Warriors have had to face some almost insurmountable challenges. 

NRL biosecurity officer Mark O'Meley, who has been assigned to the Warriors, describes their journey as an "ultimate sacrifice" - and the 'Ogre' went through more than his fair share of ups and downs during his career. 

Despite a late surge, the Warriors' hopes of finishing inside the top-eight playoffs has ended with a loss to Cronulla Sharks. 

But with two more weeks in Australia, followed by two weeks of managed isolation, this ordeal isn't over yet. 

Warriors reflect on defeat against Newcastle.
Warriors reflect on defeat against Newcastle. Photo credit: Photosport

Pre NRL suspension 

Saturday, March 14 

During the Warriors' season opener against Newcastle Knights, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announces strict new COVID-19 travel restrictions, requiring anyone entering the country to quarantine for two weeks. 

Sunday, March 15

Despite travelling arriving in Australia with overnight bags, the Warriors commit to remaining for at least another week and relocating their 'home' match against Canberra Raiders to the Gold Coast. 

The team moves from Newcastle to Kingscliff in northern New South Wales, but Patrick Herbert and Peta Hiku rush back to New Zealand for personal reasons. 

Tuesday, March 17 

Warriors chief executive Cameron George tells NZ media the club is unlikely to host a home game in 2020, which turns out to be true. 

Friday, March 20

The Warriors commit to staying in the NRL during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure the season can be completed. 

Saturday, March 21

The Warriors are kept scoreless for the second consecutive game, as Canberra claim a 20-0 win. 

Sunday, March 22

The Warriors' plans to play home games on the Gold Coast are scrapped, after the Queensland state government opts to shut its borders from the rest of Australia. 

Monday, March 23

The NRL suspends the competition, due to the coronavirus, with Australia Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V'landys insisting it's no longer safe for the players to play.  

V'landys sets a May return date, claiming the game can't survive without no action: "An Australia without rugby league isn't Australia." 

Tuesday, March 24

The Warriors return to Auckland and must serve their two-week quarantine. 

Warriors leave Auckland for Tamworth
Warriors leave Auckland for Tamworth. Photo credit: Photosport

Lockdown Drama 

Friday, March 27

Playmaker Blake Green reveals the leadership group have dipped into their own pockets to help Warriors office staff facing financial hardship during COVID-19 Alert Level 4.

Monday, April 6

NRL boss Todd Greenberg says he wants the Warriors involved in the NRL when the competition resumes, but admits the competition can go on without them, if they can't make it back into Australia.

Tuesday, April 7

Warriors players and management complete their 14-day quarantine at their homes. 

Sunday, April 12

Warriors chief executive Cameron George expresses frustration at lack of communication between the club and NRL chief executive Todd Greenburg around a myriad of issues.

Monday, April 20

Greenberg stands down as NRL chief executive, amid suggestions that a lack of communication with the Warriors was the final straw. 

Wednesday, April 22

Wayne Pearce, the man in charge of the NRL's  Project Apollo innovations committee, confirms the competition will restart on May 28. 

Thursday, April 30

The Warriors book a charter flight to leave Auckland Airport, so they can head to Australia and resume the NRL season - but they haven't been given permission to land yet. 

Saturday, May 2

After lengthy negotiations - and 24 hours before the Warriors' flight is due to leave - the Australian Border Force grant them a travel exemption to land in New South Wales. 

Tamworth embraces the Warriors during quarantine
Tamworth embraces the Warriors during quarantine. Photo credit: Photosport

Sunday, May 3

All masked up, the Warriors depart Auckland for Tamworth, where the team will spend their two-week quarantine period and train before the NRL resumption. 

A coronavirus scare leaves Nathaniel Roache stranded in Auckland, while David Fusitu'a also misses the trip, due to personal reasons.

Saturday, May 9 

The Warriors confirm they will extend their stay in Tamworth, after Roache arrives in the team bubble. He stayed back initially, because he was ill, but subsequently tested negative for coronavirus and was given the green light to rejoin the squad. 

Sunday, May 17

Prop Leeson Ah Mau ruptures a pectoral (chest) muscle in training and returns home to play no further part in the season. The Warriors have already lost front-rowers Bunty Afoa and Jackson Frei in the pre-season, and would later lost Agnatius Passi on compassionate grounds.

With Jazz Tevaga also sidelined, Jack Murchie is signed from Canberra Raiders to bolster their forward stocks.

Tuesday, May 19 

NZ Warriors confirm they will play all rescheduled NRL 'home' games until at least round nine at Gosford's Central Coast Stadium.

Kodi Nikorima in action against St George Illawarra
Kodi Nikorima in action against St George Illawarra. Photo credit: Photosport

NRL season resumes 

Saturday, May 30

The Warriors claim their first win of the season with an 18-0 win over St George Illawarra Dragons, completing 46 of 48 sets, including their first 43 of the game. 

Monday, June 1

Sydney Roosters prop Poasa Faamausili joins the Warriors on a month-long loan, as the team struggles to contain injuries depleting their squad. 

Saturday, June 20 

Coach Stephen Kearney is sacked less than 24 hours after their 40-12 loss to South Sydney Rabbitohs.

He is shown the door midway through his fourth year in charge of the Auckland-based side, leading them to one playoff appearance, and compiling 34 wins, 45 losses and draw during that tenure.

Assistant Todd Payten takes the reins for the remainder of the season. 

Stephen Kearney has run out of ideas
Stephen Kearney has run out of ideas. Photo credit: Photosport

Post-Kearney era 

Friday, June 25

Payten's first game in charge ends in disaster, as they are thrashed 50-6 by Melbourne Storm. The interim is critical of his players, saying they are soft and not a tough side. 

The coach also confirms that star wingers David Fusitu'a and Ken Maumalo are among a group of players wanting to return to New Zealand. 

Sunday, June 28 

The Warriors sign Penrith Panthers prop Jack Hetherington on loan, after  Faamausili returns to the Roosters, who are struggling with their own mounting injury toll. 

Thursday, July 2 

Forward Levaha Pulu is the first player to leave the Warriors bubble, after his pregnant partner is involved in a car accident in Auckland. 

Friday, July 3

Club owner Mark Robinson reveals playmaker Blake Green and utility Gerard Beale won't be re-signed for next season. 

Robinson confirms the news in an interview with TVNZ, which 'irritated' Green. 

Wednesday, July 15

Fusitu'a, Maumalo, Agnatius Paasi and King Vuniyayawa are confirmed to return home on July 27 - after playing against Sydney Roosters - after they couldn't get permission for their families to enter the country. 

Saturday, July 25 

More loan reinforcements join the Warriors, with Eels duo George Jennings and Daniel Alvaro accepting four-week deals. 

Wednesday, July 29

Reports suggest Tongan-born Eliesa Katoa and Fijian Selestino Ravutaumada cannot return to New Zealand when the season ends, because as they're not citizens and were only in the country on work visas. 

Monday, August 2

After firming as favourite to replace Kearney fulltime, Payten reveals he was offered the Warriors coaching job, but turned it down, hoping to secure another role in Australia. 

Todd Payten oversees Warriors warm-up
Todd Payten oversees Warriors warm-up. Photo credit: Getty

Tuesday, August 3 

Green is released from the final year of his contract to join Newcastle Knights. The week before he's due to face the Warriors, his season ends early with a knee injury and he's eventually signed by Canterbury Bulldogs for next season. 

Saturday, August 8

Nathan Brown is confirmed as new Warriors coach, signing a three-year deal from 2021 onwards. Phil Gould will work with him as a consultant to improve the club's relationship with NZ rugby league. 

Wednesday, August 12

Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is linked with a move to the Blues Super Rugby franchise. 

News breaks just days after Todd Payten says the skipper is  "doing it tough", as the only Kiwi player without his family in the team bubble. 

Tuivasa-Sheck assures his teammates he's staying put.

The same day, Brown secures Parramatta forward Kane Evans for next season, with St George centre Euan Aitken also confirming he's headed across the ditch.

Friday, August 14

Warriors fans are among those escorted from Central Coast Stadium for racially abusing Panthers wing Brent Naden. George says the fans should receive lifetime bans.

On the field, the Warriors push Penrith, before losing 18-12, still the closest anyone has come to toppling the competition leaders since their round five loss to Parramatta.

On the same day, former NRL star Brett Finch is ordered to leave the Warriors bubble, after social media images emerge of him breaking strict NRL biosecurity rules. Finch has only been with the Warriors in a support role for a week. 

Tuesday, August 18 

Chanel Harris-Tavita and Adam Keighran are involved in a nasty head clash during training, leaving Payten with few options when naming his side. He keeps Harris-Tavita at halfback, but knows he'll likely get ruled out. 

The same day, the NRL announces the Warriors will have to part with long-term sponsor Vodafone, because its conflicts with the competition's Telstra partnership. Within hours, a public backlash forces the NRL to backtrack on this edict.

Sunday, August 23

Halfback Paul Turner makes his NRL debut during a 22-14 win over Canterbury Bulldogs, having two apparent tries overruled by the bunker.

Paul Turner scores a try - but has it taken away
Paul Turner scores a try - but has it taken away. Photo credit: Photosport

Tuesday, September 1 

Jennings and Alvaro are barred from playing against the Eels, and Payten names all 20 remaining players for the game. Usually, an NRL game squad features 21 players. 

Wednesday, September 2

Payten reveals that members of the coaching staff are helping the Warriors train, due to the lack of available players. Payten adds he's reached out to clubs for more loan players, but has been knocked back. 

Friday, September 4 

Payten is confirmed as new head coach of North Queensland Cowboys from 2021. 

Sunday, September 6 

The Warriors suffer a controversial 24-18 defeat to Parramatta Eels, who score two tries, while Tevaga is sin-binned during the first half.

Sunday, September 13

Cronulla Sharks, led by former Warriors star Shaun Johnson, finally end the Warriors' slim playoff hopes with a 22-14 defeat, scoring two tries in the final six minutes to rally from behind.

Join us at 4pm Sunday for live updates of the Warriors v Raiders NRL clash