COVID-19 has been kind to some despite all the devastation and cracked palms, with the pandemic delivering booming upturns for online shopping, streaming services, and lovable but perennially disappointing rugby league basket cases.
The New Zealand Warriors will arrive home this week following one of their most impressive seasons, with the heroic 2020 vintage now pedestalled alongside its 2002 and 2011 grand final sides, and most proudly, the one from the late noughties that kept sticking it up the Storm.
After finishing respectably mid-table despite six months in the bubble, this plucky Warriors campaign will be recalled as one of the most heart-warming stories of the year, one as impressive as the Panthers’ resurgence and as unifying as the Broncos’ wooden spoon.
It will also be remembered as the time the NRL’s eternal underachievers finally earned the respect of the rugby league public – and all it took was to save the game from total oblivion.
Despite the adversity of transience, a sacked coach and loaned offcuts from the Tigers, the Kiwi club rescued 2020 by remaining in Australia to complete the season, in the process displaying a newfound resilience totally unbecoming of the Warriors brand.
In fact, such were the unrecognisable traits, many believe the club has now turned a corner – and this time (the 45th) it’s for real.
So now the secret to the club’s success has been unlocked, should the NRL help it grow by permanently relocating the team inside the bubble?
Has 2020 proved the unifying power of shared loneliness and the camaraderie of mutual support and meal times to be the key to their success? Or was it just Todd Payten?
Can the New Zealanders’ stunning awakening continue if provided the resources synonymous with successful premiership campaigns, such as twice-daily temperature checks, permanent exile from family, and fringies from the Roosters?
As we know, the Auckland club has endured a lifetime of poor decisions and fiasco, with a rap sheet including financial troubles, sacked coaches and constant mediocrity, but thankfully nothing major like a sex scandal or gender reveal.
With the brutal sacking of Stephen Kearney in June, many believed this malaise was set to continue, with any chance of a finals berth sure to disappear with the coach as he departed the club’s famous spiritual home in Terrigal.
Combined with the uncertainty of a shifting schedule and hotel coffee, nobody believed Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s men would string together a full 80 minutes, let alone 150 days.
But despite every excuse not to do so, the Warriors eventually completed their nomadic season without a single hitch, an outcome that has reinvigorated the club’s profile while leaving a sorry indictment on the Tamworth and Gosford nightlives.
The 40-28 shellacking of Manly on Sunday saw the Kiwis finish in a highly respectable tenth place, a position on the ladder which provided the best – and only – positive endorsement ever for a wildcard weekend.
Arriving next year to build on the positivity will be the lauded coaching super-duo of Nathan Brown and Phil Gould, a move which could either produce disaster for opposition sides, or New Zealand’s unemployment rate.
With Addin Fonua-Blake arriving, the emergence of Eliesa Katoa and the return of Leeson Ah Mau, David Fusitua and Ken Maumalo, the contracts of Brown and Gould should be updated with a specific clause: please don’t stuff this up.