NZ Test stars in delayed return after Colorado storm

The controversial Denver Test is set to further rankle NRL clubs who opposed the fixture for months after New Zealand's stars were delayed on their return from the United States, shaving almost a day off their preparation for upcoming club fixtures.

An electrical storm in Colorado grounded the Kiwis' scheduled flight out of the United States, with most clubs not expecting their players to arrive back in Australia or New Zealand until Wednesday.

Elusive: New Zealand's Dallin Watene-Zelezniak tries to evade England's James Graham during the Denver Test.

Photo: AP

It's a final twist to the contentious match, which proved a runaway success in front of almost 20,000 fans on Sunday morning (AEST) in a foreign rugby league market, months after the NRL and its clubs lobbied against it being scheduled in the middle of the season.

While England's NRL stars were able to escape Denver on an earlier flight and are expected back in Australia on Tuesday, there was no such joy for New Zealand, who had their flight cancelled when a fierce storm swept through Colorado.

As late as Monday night, NRL clubs were still unsure exactly when most of their New Zealand players would officially touch down back home.


St George Illawarra stand to be the worst affected, with their representative prop Lesson Ah Mau, who made his New Zealand debut after previously captaining Samoa, due to play for the ladder leaders against Parramatta on Thursday night.

It was unclear whether Ah Mau would even arrive back in Australia in time to take part in the Dragons' captain's run on Wednesday, their final session before the clash with the Eels in Wollongong.

Parramatta had no representatives in the Denver Test.

The flight trouble, albeit outside of New Zealand's control, is likely to garner further resistance from NRL clubs to the American venture, with more internationals due to be played there between the countries in 2019 and 2020.

The United States will host the Rugby League World Cup in 2025.

The Dragons took precautions with their players who took part, flying their strength and conditioning guru Nathan Pickworth to monitor Widdop, Graham and Ah Mau in the United States while he undertook a whirlwind fact-finding tour.

And Pickworth will now have to help make a brisk call on whether Ah Mau is fresh enough to face the Eels almost as soon as the 28-year-old returns to Wollongong.

The Warriors will also be ruing the later-than-expected arrival of their New Zealand contingent after Peta Hiku, Isaac Luke and Ken Maumalo all travelled overseas for the match.

Warriors coach Stephen Kearney had previously indicated he would be unlikely to play any representatives in the following NRL round, which has them scheduled to meet the Sharks in Auckland on Friday.

Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Tohu Harris didn't travel to Denver for a variety of reasons including a desire to feature for their club against Cronulla.

The Roosters and Storm stars also have a blockbuster fixture at the Adelaide Oval on Friday night.

A fast-starting Kiwis were worn down 36-18 by Wayne Bennett's World Cup finalists in the historic Test, which won the support of both the super coach and first-time New Zealand mentor Michael Maguire.

Adam Pengilly

Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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