Teamates of a “shaken” Leivaha Pulu say he had long wanted to return home so will get relief from ending his NRL quarantine to be with his pregnant wife in Auckland.
Forward Pulu farewelled the squad from their Terrigal, NSW base on Thursday after choosing to be their first squad member to depart since they crossed the Tasman two months ago to begin a season of virtual quarantine in Australia.
The 30-year-old will undergo two weeks of isolation before joining wife Tolina, who was involved in a minor car accident on Wednesday but is not believed to have been injured.
Teammate Karl Lawton said Pulu was “a bit shaken up” when he addressed the team on Wednesday night and said the second-rower was given support from the entire squad and interim coach Todd Payten.
“Originally it was pretty tough to hear. All the prayers have gone out to him and his family,” Lawton said.
“It’s a terrible thing that’s happened but I think it’s the right thing for him.
“Toddy was pretty simple about, ‘get the next flight out of here and go look after your family’.”
Lawton confirmed Pulu was among the players who had become increasingly homesick, potentially making his decision to depart an easier one.
“It was definitely the icing on the cake. He had hummed and haahed about going.
“Once the accident happened, it was time to shoot back home.”
The Warriors will pursue another loan player to replace the second-rower, who has played one game over the last two seasons and comes off contract at the end of 2020.
Chief executive Cameron George said Pulu could potentially rejoin his teammates later in the season but that would depend on families being given exemptions to travel to Australia. He could then travel in their bubble.
The club has given the NRL a deadline of July 19 to be granted such exemptions.
If the impasse remains, three players – wingers Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu’a and prop Agnatius Paasi – have indicated they will return home after the round 10 game against Cronulla.
Lawton said Pulu’s plight showed how tenuous their situation was and felt for those players missing loved ones.
The club has drawn up a list of loan prospects to replace departed players so will be set to move quickly to replace former Tongan international Pulu, who has played 58 first grade games.