NRL 2022: Warriors welcomed home with pōwhiri, as Shaun Johnson admits nervous return to NZ

NZ Warriors veteran Shaun Johnson admits he wasn't sure how the team would be received on their return to New Zealand, as they were welcomed by a pōwhiri at the NRL club's Auckland base.

The side have made their long-awaited homecoming, after almost three years based across the Tasman, due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Johnson revealed there were a few nerves within the squad before their arrival, as they endure a tumultuous season that sees them just two points off bottom of the competition ladder, but he believes the warm welcome has brought a lift to the players.

"It was really special... bit of a buzz for all of us," he said. "The Kiwi boys are lucky enough to have experienced something like that before, but under these circumstances, with a few Aussie boys with us, it was really cool.

"I'm not sure I can put it into words, if I'm being honest. It's been a long time for a lot of the boys. 

"This year has been a little bit different, so to actually be home and feel like you belong, it's a feeling I can't really describe.

"I've been lucky to be back for a week now. We weren't sure how we would be received, especially after the last couple of months, but the feel around town, people in shopping centres, wherever I've been, they're so excited to have us back.

"We've certainly felt the love already and I know the boys are going to experience that this weekend."

The Warriors will face Wests Tigers in their first home game at a soldout Mt Smart Stadium since 2019.

Johnson hopes it provides an opportunity for a reset, after mixed feelings playing at Redcliffe, which he admits didn't always seem like a home game.

"It's pretty hard to feel that where we were," he said. "Redcliffe took us in with open arms and we really had a home away from home there, but naturally, you're not going to have a full fanbase there.

"Running out on games on the weekend there, we'd have boos, we'd have cheers at Redcliffe, but I'm pretty sure that when we run out this week, it's going to be one-sided and that's a feeling we can't wait for.

"What's happened the past couple of months has been what none of us have wanted.

"To be able to come home and, at this time, be able to reset, have something to really look forward to, the boys are so pumped for this weekend, getting to play in front of our people, our supporters, our fanbase.

"Excited is a little bit of an understatement, but we can't wait."

Join us at 4pm Sunday for live updates of the Warriors' NRL homecoming against the Tigers