Written by Stuart McLennan
It is highly unlikely anyone would have predicted a few months ago that a New Zealand NRL team would base themselves in the NSW regional city of Tamworth.
These are strange and fluid times and the Warriors’ decision to set up camp in the country music capital was based on a bit of inside knowledge.
CEO Cameron George spent four years in Tamworth working as a racing steward and playing halfback for the West Tamworth Lions, bagging a reserve grade premiership and a first grade grand final appearance.
“I loved playing for Wests – a good, fun club, a real family club,” George told local newspaper the Northern Daily Leader.
“I was fortunate enough to play with a great bunch of guys and Chuce (Tony La Chiusa), our coach, was well before his time, a very smart coach.
“We won a reserve-grade grand final and got beat in the 1999 first-grade Grand Final by Moree.”
The once powerful West Tamworth Lions haven’t entered a team in the Group 4 competition for a number of years. The North Tamworth Bears rule the roost, having won the 2019 title and holding the record number of premierships with 21.
John Quayle, Billy Bischoff, Jim Leis, David Brooks and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs are just some of the personalities that played footy in the region. Young Parramatta Eels outside back Ethan Parry is a product of Oxley High School in North Tamworth.
Actual breaking news: We've been given the all-clear to fly to Australia tomorrow to prepare for the revamped 2020 #NRL season 👌🙌👍
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) May 2, 2020
In recent years the local population have been treated to Wests Tigers taking their games to the magnificent Scully Park.
The council has estimated that the events bring in an additional $2 million in economic benefit to the region.
It was a local state MP, Kevin Anderson, that sent a text to George urging him to consider his former place of residence as a training base.
There is talk that the Warriors will relocate again to the Central Coast after two weeks. In the meantime the squad will enjoy the benefits of the Wests Leagues / Scully Park high performance precinct albeit in quarantine and isolation excluded from the outside world.
The team will not be able to mingle with the locals nor get to visit venues such as TRECC or the Long Yard Hotel that have hosted some of the best local and international musicians.
The main thoroughfare, Peel Street, is dotted with cafes, bars and restaurants that overflow during the Country Music Festival in January while buskers line the footpaths.
One of the joys of visiting Tamworth is driving a lap or two of the main drag, a practice known as ‘Peelies’ by the locals.
Unfortunately for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and the rest of the 36 strong Warriors contingent, life in isolation will prevent the opportunity of a ‘doing a Peelie’ this time around.