NPC 2021: 'Devastated' Counties Manukau implore NZ Rugby to 'open cheque books' after season canned

The Auckland region's trio of National Provincial Championship teams have been left to count the financial cost of being left out of the annual domestic rugby competition, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

NZ Rugby has confirmed a last-ditch attempt to allow Auckland, North Harbour and Counties Manukau to relocate and resume their season elsewhere has failed, leaving it no choice but to continue without them.

Beyond the onfield product, the damage caused by the revenue lost from their exclusion could be significant.

"I think the words 'crushing' or 'devastated' would be the words that come to mind," Counties Manukau general manager Aaron Lawton tells Newshub. "We are absolutely devastated."

Auckland, North Harbour and Counties Manukau attempted three times to get an exemption from the Government to relocate to Taupō. 

All three requests were denied, despite other codes and members of society succeeding. 

"We're not comparing ourselves to any of the other categories or instances where other people have been granted exemptions," says NZ Rugby community general manager Steve Lancaster.

Lawton is a little less diplomatic.

"The risk to the public was less than going to Cornwall Park for a picnic," he insists. "When you see different exemptions that are being granted across society, it seems to be a little bit of a lottery."

While NZR is committed to helping where it can - planning to run a stand-alone series for the three provinces, once they are permitted to resume training -  the unions have been left with the burden of their withdrawal.

"The first thing we need to establish is the financial impacts for the unions, which I can tell you is significant," Lancaster notes.

Lawton concurs, adding: "It'd be nice if New Zealand Rugby opened the cheque books."

But Counties Manukau's omission has had a different sort of impact on hooker Joe Royal.

He'd planned to retire after this season, but is now determined not to let his provincial career fizzle out on such a sour note.

"This lockdown and these setbacks have probably kept the fire burning to go another year," Royal says.

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