jazz tevaga
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 18: Jazz Tevaga of the Warriors and Marcelo Montoya of the Warriors celebrate victory with fans during the round six NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the New Zealand Warriors at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, on April 18, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

1,038 days. Two years, nine months and four days. It's quite a long stretch. 1,038 days ago, Donald Trump was president, the Roosters were the reigning premiers, corona was just a beer, and the Warriors played their last home game at Mt Smart Stadium - until this weekend.

You couldn't blame the Warriors had they wanted to throw in the towel in early 2020, told they would have to relocate from New Zealand to the Central Coast if they wanted to take part in that year's NRL season. It'd be months before some of the players would see their families.

Once they'd comfortably made base near Gosford, COVID would rear its ugly head again, forcing the club north to Queensland to set up camp once again. Living out of a suitcase for nearly three years, it's amazing that these men, as well as the staff and families behind them, are able to turn up week in, week out, have the resilience that they do.

Now, 1,038 days later, the Warriors will finally grace Mt Smart Stadium once again.

Only three players in this Warriors out featured in the club's last game at the venue - Chanel Harris-Tavita, Adam Pompey and Jazz Tevaga.

So many are returning to the place they once called home, like Shaun Johnson who played eight seasons at the ground before moving to Cronulla.

Some are only being introduced for the first time. When Reece Walsh, who has Maori heritage, signed with the Warriors effective immediately 14 months ago, he'd never stepped foot in the country. Now, he'll run out as one of the Warriors' marquee men.

While each Warrior has their own unique story about the return to Mt Smart, it was emotional as a collective on Tuesday as the team's bus finally pulled in home, greeted by staff as well as family, a brief moment that will stick with so many of these young men for the rest of their days.

It's the light at the end of the tunnel that not only reminds them of the tough times they've been through, but also how good it feels to be back with all those troubled times in the rear-view mirror.

NRL Rd 1 - Warriors v Dragons
SUNSHINE COAST, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 12: Shaun Johnson of the Warriors kicks the ball during the warm-up before during the round one NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Sunshine Coast Stadium, on March 12, 2022, in Sunshine Coast, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Shaun Johnson had spent one collective week with his partner and child this year, and there's no doubt he's relieved to finally be back home.

“Watching my little one grow up through FaceTime wasn’t ideal. We’ve all had our different challenges. Not having them in my corner for the year has been challenging at times" Johnson told nrl.com.

“Every sort of tough day you have had (in Australia) brings you back to this moment right now where we are home, with my family and I get to be embraced by the people I play for.”

While the squad is vastly different to the one that ran out in Round 24, 2019, the feeling will all be the same as the Warriors take on the Wests Tigers in front of a sold-out Mt Smart Stadium, which will also act as the first win as a head coach for either Stacey Jones or Brett Kimmorley.

Emotions will be at an all-time high, but after 1,038 days, it's all been leading back to this.