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After wearing Tamworth on their hearts all season, the Vodafone Warriors have now been given the chance to play in front of local fans at their original home away from home during their Covid-19 affected NRL campaign.
It follows confirmation by the NRL today that the Vodafone Warriors' 16th-round encounter with the Newcastle Knights has been set down for Scully Park in Australia's country music capital on Saturday, August 29 (3.00pm kick-off local time; 5.00pm NZT).
The NRL, New South Wales Government, Vodafone Warriors, Wests Tamworth Leagues Club and Fox Sports have worked together to make the match a reality.
The Vodafone Warriors spent more than two weeks in quarantine in Tamworth after flying in on May 3 ahead of the resumption to the NRL season.
The stay had a profound effect on the players and staff with Tamworth's post code 2340 being embroidered on the club's playing jerseys as a way of thanking the community for its support in giving the Vodafone Warriors a home when they went into quarantine.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V'landys AM said the match provided the perfect opportunity to acknowledge the Tamworth community for their assistance in the resumption of the Telstra Premiership.
"We want to thank the Tamworth community and businesses for their kindness, support and hospitality shown to the Warriors whilst they were in their beautiful town,'' he said.
"In particular, their local member Kevin Anderson was the perfect example with the spirit and energy he displayed to make them welcome.
"Allowing the Warriors to quarantine in Tamworth played an important role in the season resuming on May 28. We also want to thank the NSW Government for their ongoing assistance throughout the pandemic and our broadcast partner Fox Sports for supporting the relocation."
Vodafone Warriors CEO Cameron George said the club was delighted with the decision.
"It's such an exciting opportunity for us being able to return to Tamworth to play in front of fans at Scully Park," said Vodafone Warriors CEO Cameron George.
"We've played with Tamworth's post code 2340 on our jerseys throughout the season and hold the region and its people very close to our hearts. We'll never forget what they did for us.
"When we were stuck without a home just before the season was about to resume Tamworth came to the rescue by setting up a home away from home for our players and staff to meet their quarantine requirements.
"The circumstances meant the team couldn't connect with the community then but with this game we'll at last have a chance to say thank you to those who are able to make it to the game.
"It's also a way of being able to show our appreciation to local MP Kevin Anderson, Wests Leagues CEO Rod Laing and local businessman Craig Power for all the work they did in setting up our stay there in May. They were unbelievable."
Vodafone Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck said he and the players had always hoped they'd be able to return to play in Tamworth.
"We loved our time in Tamworth and can't thank the people enough for how welcoming they were," he said.
"While we weren't able to get out of our bubble then we felt like the whole city was with us and has been ever since.
"Every time we trained on Scully Park we thought how cool it would be to play an NRL game there as a way of saying thanks. It's awesome that we'll now be able to do that on August 29."
V'landys said the NRL was committed to bringing more games to regional venues.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has restricted the opportunities to play games in regional centres this season. Towns like Tamworth have rugby league in their DNA,'' he said.
"We want people in regional towns to have the opportunity to watch more live rugby league and we will make this happen."
V'landys wished to particularly single out the NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro for his unrivalled support of rugby league during the medical emergency of COVID-19.
"To say he was a Warrior for the game, would be a gross understatement,'' he said.
Barilaro said rugby league was part of the fabric of country towns.
"This year I set an ambitious goal to bring first grade footy to the bush and today I can announce the NSW Government is delivering on that commitment by partnering with the NRL to bring a first grade NRL game to Tamworth," he said.
"I have said in the past that rugby league is the fabric of life in the bush so to see the highest level of the game return to its grassroots base is truly exciting. Over the last few months many of our regional communities have seen a glimmer of hope that the drought will break and this is one more thing to look forward to for those living in the country.
"The Warriors and the Knights are guaranteed to put on a show in this Trans-Tasman encounter, but the real winner on the day is footy in the bush."
Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson thanked the Vodafone Warriors for delivering on their promise to play a game in Tamworth.
"The Warriors promised to come back and play a competition game and it will great to see them run onto Scully Park Tamworth, particularly as they have our postcode embroidered on their jersey,'' he said.
"They have fond memories of their time here and are looking forward to coming back to say thanks for the outstanding hospitality shown to them during that period.
"This will be a crackerjack game with the Knights holding a strong fan base in Tamworth and the Warriors who have also built a strong following.
"We love our footy so it's fantastic to see the NSW Government and the NRL supporting Rugby League in the bush."