WELLINGTON, July 29 (Reuters) - The New Zealand Warriors have been told that two of their players can not return to New Zealand at the conclusion of the National Rugby League (NRL) season in Australia as they are not citizens, the team said on Wednesday.
The Auckland-based Warriors relocated to Australia in May in order for the NRL to restart their season. They will remain there until they have completed all of their matches.
New Zealand’s borders, however, are closed to all but citizens or permanent residents to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus and both Eliesa Katoa and Selestino Ravutaumada have been excluded from returning as they are on work visas.
“We’ve been advised that they won’t be permitted entry back into the country due to their status, which is devastating for us to hear,” Warriors Chief Executive Cameron George told Stuff Media. “It’s just another major bump in our road for 2020.”
Both Tonga-born Katoa and Fijian Ravutaumada moved to New Zealand as teenagers and been resident for more than three years.
“They’ve got the appropriate visas to be in New Zealand,” George said. “It’s easily demonstrated that they’re residents here, because they’ve been here for years and gone to school here.
“Yet our border officials say they’re not New Zealand residents. I know by definition they need to be citizens, but three months ago they were all of the above.”
The Warriors have been particularly badly affected by the coronavirus.
Four players have returned home because their families could not join them in Australia, while an injury crisis has meant they have had to rely on loan players to provide them with enough depth in their squad.
Coach Stephen Kearney was also sacked after the third game of the resumed competition and several senior players have been criticised by the team’s owner and already told they should seek new contracts elsewhere next season.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury Editing by Robert Birsel