Warriors chief executive Cameron George says it will take the NRL club years to get over their two-and-a-half year COVID-enforced exile as they prepare for Sunday's homecoming match against Wests Tigers.
Some 60 matches and 1039 days since they last played at home, having relocated to Australia as the pandemic hit, the struggling Warriors will hope for a huge boost in front of a sell-out crowd.
They flew into Auckland on Monday and were greeted at Mt Smart Stadium on Tuesday with a traditional welcoming ceremony as the build for the clash continues.
But George admitted even an emotional win couldn't paper over cracks that have emerged in recent times, the side riding a seven-game losing streak that included the departure of coach Nathan Brown.
"I feel for our club in general. It'll take years to get over what we've been through, but on the face of it, we have to get through it pretty quickly," he told reporters.
"We can do that by going out in the field and winning for our fans first and then we can rebuild the club behind the scenes, both financially and structurally to get it right."
While many thought the carrot of returning from their Queensland base would inspire increased performance, George said it had the opposite effect with a number of deficient performances in their recent losing run.
"I thought it might have really inspired the guys over the last couple of months, but I think what's happened is they've had their eyes on the prize of coming back," he said.
"It may have just had their mindset focusing on this, so they get to live the dream and the emotions on Sunday and we're looking forward to that."
Halfback Shaun Johnson admitted he wasn't sure how he and his teammates would be greeted after their recent poor form.
His team have gone 21-39 in their 60 games since they last played at Mt Smart and sit second-last on this season's ladder with a 4-11 record.
"Coming back, you weren't sure how you were going to be received, especially after the last couple of months," Johnson told reporters.
"But the feel around town, people in the shopping centres, wherever I've been are so excited to have us back.
"I've certainly felt the love already and I know the boys are going to get to experience that this weekend."
Forward Tohu Harris, who's been with the Warriors throughout the exile, admitted putting pride back in the jersey was top of the priority list, agreeing with interim coach Stacey Jones' assessment they lacked resilience.
"Teams in the past here at the Warriors, they always fought right to the end, and that's something we've got to show we're willing to (do)," he told reporters.
"We need to be better in those areas to fight back and turn the momentum back in our direction.
"Those sorts of things are really important because if we don't have the resilience the opponent will just get too much momentum and pile on too many points."
Australian Associated Press
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