NZ Warriors have confirmed their NRL team will return from Australia for their first home game at Mt Smart Stadium in almost two years.
The Auckland-based side have been trapped across the Tasman for most of the past two seasons, with COVID-19 severely limiting international travel.
But the current quarantine-free travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia has convinced the NRL and Warriors to schedule a real 'home' fixture against Canterbury Bulldogs on August 15.
"This is going to be one of the biggest and certainly most emotional days in our great club's history," says Warriors chief executive Cameron George.
"We are all so excited knowing we are finally set to see the Warriors, sponsors, families, members and fans coming together for a game day like no other.
"There’s no doubt these will be the hottest tickets in town. What we want now is to see Mt Smart Stadium packed to the rafters to support the team and to farewell Roger.
“The club, as a whole, has made huge sacrifices to keep the competition going during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s our families, members and fans back home in New Zealand who have suffered the most through not being able to connect with their team.
"Their continued support and patience has been incredible."
This week, skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will become the second player to captain the club 100 times - after stalwart Simon Mannering - but will leave at the end of this season to pursue a rugby career.
Despite Warriors fans' mixed feelings over his departure, it would be a travesty if Tuivasa-Sheck left without a fitting farewell.
The Warriors last played at Mt Smart on August 30, 2019, against South Sydney Rabbitohs, so their return will break a drought of one year, 11 months and 16 days.
Last year, they played back-to-back road games to open the season, and were due to return home to face St George Dragons, when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern closed the borders to limit the spread of the coronavirus into New Zealand.
The team returned home during lockdown, but returned to Australia for the NRL resumption and were resigned to spending another season across the ditch to maintain the competition's integrity.
As recently as last month, Tuivasa-Sheck poured cold water on the prospect of returning home this season and recent COVID outbreaks in Victoria have continued to jeopardise travel between the two neighbours.
"We made a smart decision that we think it's probably best to stay on here and finish it off," he said. "You've got to consider the families and boys having to find homes when they get back.
"To find rent, pay for bond, have to get leases - that's all the little things we had to think about."
That logic suggests the team will likely return to their current Central Coast base to close out the season.
Join us at 4pm Sunday for live updates of the NRL clash between NZ Warriors and Melbourne Storm