Rugby league: Off-field challenges still remain for New Zealand Warriors in NRL
One of the first things many of the Warriors players will do tomorrow morning is go for a walk.
They can't go far, restricted to the park across the road from their Terrigal resort, with a red circle marked on a map denoting the limits of their wandering zone.
They also can't go together, only allowed to venture out with their respective roommates, but at least they can leave the compound, independently, for their first small taste of freedom in weeks.
It was a concession granted on Wednesday, after the Auckland club told the NRL that something had to give.
There were concerns for the welfare of the playing squad, who were, to borrow the title of an iconic New Zealand book, Stranded in Paradise.
Where the Warriors are staying in Terrigal. Photo / Getty
On the field, things are starting to look quite rosy. The team managed an impressive performance against the Dragons, where the energy, belief and commitment was a massive step up from March.
Success breeds confidence, and the Warriors might be much more competitive than many expected.
But off the field, it's a struggle. The players have been living a weird existence for more than a month now. It's not just that they are away from family and friends; they are also estranged from normality.
Last week one observer likened their situation to living in a 'five star prison'. That's an over the top comparison, but the difficulties of their situation shouldn't be underestimated.
Until Wednesday, the Warriors players were unable to leave the resort and head out for a walk.
If they wanted to go for a stroll, their only realistic option was to get a ride to their training ground, then walk a few laps of the field there.
So the NRL's concession has been a welcome initiative, warmly received by the players, but only came about after Warriors' chief executive Cameron George directly petitioned NRL boss Andrew Abdo.
Players in other teams, especially the Sydney clubs, had all kinds of freedoms; they could take their kids to the playground, grab a takeaway coffee or go to a park.
George even threatened, only half-jokingly, that he would buy 40 dogs, as walking your pet was permitted under NRL protocols on animal welfare grounds. But sanity prevailed, after the governing body consulted their health experts.
But life is still restricted.
Warriors players can't go to the beach, nor for a swim or surf. Supermarket visits are possible, but only on a solo basis, and they have to be driven by a member of staff. They can't go to a local cafe, nor have a game of golf on their day off.
Aside from their apartments, which are shared with one or two other teammates, the only other area they can assemble is the communal team room. It meant that, until a few days ago, the only sense of freedom was at training.
While they are living in luxury, and have been treated superbly, it's hard to put a value on basic daily routines that we all take for granted. Especially considering the Warriors have been essentially in isolation since they arrived in Australia, almost five weeks ago, which was preceded by five weeks in lockdown in New Zealand.
Hopefully, life edges back to normal soon. Players are now able to prepare food in their own apartments, if they choose, rather than the thrice-daily group meals in the dining area.
Three of the players' families have travelled to Australia, currently serving the 14-day quarantine, and more will follow this month.
New Warriors signing Poasa Faamausili at training. Photo / Photosport
The NRL has indicated that they will review their overall protocols again soon, though they are understandably wary, given the potential impact if a player or coach tests positive to Covid-19.
But whatever happens, it's been a unique chapter in Warriors history.
A period where the players spent more time together than they would have thought humanly possible, and the simple announcement of a walk in the park prompted a raucous cheer in a team meeting.
The simple announcement of a walk in the park prompted a raucous cheer in a team meeting.