Wellington (AFP) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday said officials were "looking to resolve" the plight of two Warriors rugby league players who face being stranded in Australia due to COVID-19 border restrictions.
The Warriors this week revealed Eliesa Katoa and Selestino Ravutaumada had been told they could not return to New Zealand when the NRL season ends in Australia because they are not Kiwi citizens.
Warriors chief executive Cameron George said the situation was "devastating" for the two 20-year-olds, who have no family in Australia and have lived in New Zealand for years after winning schoolboy scholarships.
"They're kids, the poor buggers," he told stuff.co.nz, adding: "So what are we going to do? Drop them off and leave them on the shores of Australia?"
Many New Zealanders have expressed support for Katoa, from Tonga, and Fiji citizen Ravutaumada, who has represented his adopted homeland with the Junior Kiwis.
"This needs (to be) sorted! Let's do something about this Jacinda Ardern. Never leave our own behind," former Black Caps cricket captain Brendon McCullum tweeted.
Ardern said the situation was complex but she believed it could be resolved before the NRL season ends in September.
"From what I've been briefed on, it's a matter that is looking to be resolved... we've set some clear criteria and we have officials working through those applications," she told reporters.
The Warriors have been based in Australia since early May so they can compete in the NRL without going through the strict border controls and quarantine periods imposed on both sides of the Tasman.
Their decision to relocate from Auckland was pivotal in ensuring a full 16-team season could resume as the competition became one of the first in world sport to resume after a lengthy COVID-19 shutdown.
A number of players have already flown back to New Zealand early because they were homesick and missed their families after months away in Australia.