How trans-Tasman bubble impacts Aussie-based Kiwi sports teams

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's announcement that the highly anticipated trans-Tasman travel bubble will open on April 19 has significant impact on Kiwi sports, particularly teams already contesting Australian sports leagues cross the ditch.

NZ Warriors

Warriors chief executive Cameron George says the trans-Tasman bubble announcement is a positive step towards the club returning home later in the NRL season.

Last month, George confirmed the Warriors had decided to extend their stay in Australia until June 21, while continuing to monitor developments.

George suggests the team could return to Mt Smart after June 21 - with 10 rounds of the regular season remaining - but no sooner.

"Today’s announcement of a travel bubble is cause for excitement, but it doesn’t immediately affect our plans," says George. "Our position is that we will stay in Australia until after playing Newcastle on June 19. 

The Warriors haven't given up on a return to Mt Smart.
The Warriors haven't given up on a return to Mt Smart. Photo credit: Getty

"We had discussions with the NRL, and our players and staff about our plan to ensure we have some stability for the first 15 rounds of the season.

"Our desire hasn't changed. We want to be back home as soon as it’s feasible, so we can have our team playing in front of our families, members, fans and our supportive sponsors."  

This year, the Warriors have been based on the New South Wales Central Coast, playing home games at Gosford's Central Coast Stadium.

George says they would need assurance that the lines of travel between the two countries would remain completely open, with no threat of temporary closures due to any regional outbreaks.

"When it's safe to do so, we look forward to sharing the biggest homecoming party with everyone at Mt Smart Stadium, but we need to be absolutely sure we will be able to travel to and from Australia with confidence to ensure our place in the competition isn’t jeopardised."

The first opportunity for a Warriors home game would be the July 2 fixture against St George Dragons.

Warriors second-rower Tohu Harris insists players are comfortable waiting to get back home.

"At the moment, we're pretty happy where we are and the situation we're in, but if we do get to go home, that's a huge positive for us and the club," Harris says.

Wellington Phoenix

The Phoenix will try to play two home games this season.
The Phoenix will try to play two home games this season. Photo credit: Getty

The NZ A-League team is encouraged by the bubble announcement, calling it a "huge boost" to their plans to play up to two matches in New Zealand this season.

Although the club will continue to base itself at Wollongong until the end of the regular season, the Phoenix are working on a plan to have the team and support staff return for a couple of fixtures.

The games would be played in Wellington and Auckland in consecutive rounds, sometime in late May, as part of its four matches yet to be scheduled.

"The mid-April border opening gives us a chance to get things together," says Dome. 

"We're looking at sometime in May that we can come back and play some games in those last four rounds, and that gives us a good six weeks now to pull the games together, do the ticketing, get the bookings in place, sort accommodation, flights, get the games on sale and get the marketing underway.

"The timing is pretty good. Ideally, the more time you can have, the better, but we're very confident that, all things being equal, we'll be back in New Zealand to play some games."

Dome says the financial considerations of taking at least one game to Auckland have to be taken into account, particularly after the devastating blow the pandemic and the resulting relocation have had on the club coffers.

"We keep talking about it and talking about it, but Auckland is important for us as a commercial hub," says Dome. "A lot of our corporate partners are there and we haven't been able to fulfill our corporate obligations, because we haven't played in Wellington.

"We are contracted to do games in Auckland every year as well and if we're not playing them, then there are huge implications for the club.

"We had 20,000-plus at Eden Park last year and a 22,000 type of crowd, if we came back this year, would be of enormous financial benefit to us, so we have to be really conscious of that.

"It's a very difficult balancing act between going back and playing in our home city, and trying to do the right thing by the club to make sure that we can continue on as a club, without bleeding money because of COVID."

NZ Breakers

The Breakers hope to return home later this season.
The Breakers hope to return home later this season. Photo credit: Photosport

NZ Breakers owner Matt Walsh is confident his team will return to New Zealand to play home games before the season is out.

The Australian NBL side have endured a rough road since their arrival in Australia late last year, switching bases several times and dealing with a constantly changing schedule.

The Breakers are relocating to Tasmania as their new base, where they're expected to play at least six 'home' games.

Walsh has "no idea" precisely how many games could potentially be played or when they'll be able to return, but is adamant the Breakers will play basketball in Auckland this season.

"I believe that Breakers fans will be able to see us play this season in New Zealand," Walsh tells Newshub. "I can tell you that the planning will start straight away.

"All we can do is hope that the COVID situation stays as it is and if it does, at some point this year, we'll be playing back in New Zealand.

"I'm very optimistic that sometime in May, we'll be playing home games [in New Zealand]."

Walsh's immediate concern is getting the players back home and he'll meet with NBL officials on Tuesday evening to discuss further details.

Breakers captain Tom Abercrombie calls the news "incredibly exciting".

"We knew it was going to be coming for a long time now, but it just seems to have taken forever," says Abercrombie. "To have some certainty around that date certainly gives us a little pep in our step.

"We've been over here for a long time, jumping from state to state. It feels like we've been absolutely everywhere, except home.

"As with most things this year, I don't like to get too far ahead of myself, but it looks like things are on the up and I'm excited to get home."

Super Rugby Trans-Tasman

The Australasian competition will feature New Zealand’s five Super Rugby clubs against Australia's Reds, NSW Waratahs, Brumbies, Melbourne Rebels and Western Force.

Tuesday's bubble announcement essentially gives the tournament the green light to proceed as scheduled, with round one kicking off on May 14 in Dunedin, when the Highlanders take on the Reds.

Five rounds of play will take place across five weeks, with a final to be played at an unconfirmed venue on June 19.

"Today’s news gives us even greater confidence to push forward with our plans, and provides certainty to our teams, fans and stakeholders," NZ Rugby says.