The CEOs of Richmond Tigers, Melbourne Vixens and New Zealand Warriors...

Disastrous, obliteration and no time for debriefing.

This is how three club bosses from three different sports described the winter they just experienced.

“We won’t be returning to pre-COVID settings until 2023,” said Brendon Gale, managing director of AFL champion Richmond Tiger.

“God forbid we’ll ever have to do this again,” said Rosie King, executive director of Super Netball Champion Melbourne Vixens.

“Financially, it was just wiping out,” said Cameron George, managing director of NRL’s New Zealand Warriors.

Everyone looked exhausted, none of them wanted 2020 to be repeated, yet each of them sounded like proud parents as they spoke about their team’s resilience on The Ticket’s annual CEOs panel.

The Tigers and Vixens both spent time in COVID bubbles in Queensland, while the Warriors spent most of their time away from home – locked from mid-March to October after traveling to Australia for the first round of the NRL and then finding out that New Zealand had closed its borders.

“You just had to find out”

The Tigers have had a tough year reaching a third Premier League in four years.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

The Tigers boss said the season “was really very positive as it only highlighted the importance of the football club’s environment”.

Some off-field incidents may threaten Richmond’s title defense, though Gale said the club had taken responsibility and highlighted the growing importance of “self-image and self-esteem” in all top-class sports.

“To have a feeling for who we are and what we stand for and what makes us ‘us’ [is important] … we tell our own stories, “said Gale.

“We’re not defined by others, so I think the media is becoming more fragmented and social media – there seems to be a lot of anger – … we are in a world of constant judgment and control.

Vixen’s boss King pointed to the wellbeing of the entire club as a major concern.

“I think we had really good preparation for the athletes’ wellbeing,” said King.

Two Melbourne Vixens super netball players smile as they celebrate as they beat the Giants.

Two Melbourne Vixens super netball players smile as they celebrate as they beat the Giants.

The Melbourne Vixens put player wellbeing at the forefront of their season.(AAP: Albert Perez)

“They had independent support as well as within the hub itself, but maybe not quite as much access for the staff and trainers.

“In hindsight, I think … we would make sure our employees know they are part of that feel good experience, rather than categorizing it as ‘athletes’ wellbeing.

“There were definitely swings and roundabouts of emotion because you brought people together for that period and there will be a problem every now and then.

“At the end of the day they just had to find out.”

“That will burden you mentally.”

New Zealand Warriors NRL players collect their suitcases after getting off their bus in Terrigal on the central NSW coast.

New Zealand Warriors NRL players collect their suitcases after getting off their bus in Terrigal on the central NSW coast.

The NZ Warriors moved to Terrigal in May to make sure the NRL season could be completed.(AAP: James Gourley)

The New Zealand Warriors are still grappling with the mental effects of being away from home for seven months.

While some families joined players in the COVID bubble in Australia, there were others who were denied visas by the Australian government and had to stay behind.

At the end of the season, the players flew back to Auckland to experience an additional 14 days of self-isolation before returning home.

“From mid-March to mid-October, our boys lived a restricted lifestyle. It’s going to be mentally stressful and quite challenging, ”said George.

The loss of a coach in the middle of the season added another burden.

A rugby league coach and the manager of his team sit at a desk during a press conference.

A rugby league coach and the manager of his team sit at a desk during a press conference.

Stephen Kearney (left) was relieved of his duties by Cameron George after a shaky string of results.(AAP: Darren Pateman)

“We’re doing a lot of things now to make sure we come out really well. That’s the most important thing, ”said George.

“We have invested a lot of money, time and resources.”

The Vixens have entered into direct contract negotiations with their players for the next season, which King describes as “a really cruel end to the season”.

“What you have is this conflict that now you have to get into player contracts and player negotiations. So it’s almost like you don’t have a point, ”she said.

“I’ve been thinking with our trainer and contract manager … and you could really see the exhaustion that they came out of that experience in Queensland and really didn’t get a chance to have a proper debrief.”

Financial hit “huge”

Simone McKinnis speaks in the middle of four Vixens players

Simone McKinnis speaks in the midst of four Vixens players

The Melbourne Vixens made sure that procedures were in place to ensure players could focus on winning on the pitch.(AAP: Albert Perez)

One of the greatest achievements was the budget – every team in every competition will grapple with a new reality.

King says the Vixens employees made all the pay cuts and “threw whatever we needed” so the team could focus on the Queensland competition without worrying about remote control of the purse strings.

The realignment of the budget and the long-term effects of the season that has just begun.

Gale said Richmond “can’t gloss it over”.

For them the financial success was “huge”.

“We’re in the business of the rally,” he said.

“It’s having a catastrophic impact on our business.

“We had to make really difficult decisions about downsizing and layoffs.

“The next two years will be very tough.”

Meanwhile, George said that without financial support from the NRL and the New Zealand government, he feared the club could collapse.

“Financially it was just an obliteration,” he said.

“We haven’t had a home game all year round.

“Our members and our companies have stayed with us gratefully.

“There was a percentage that asked for a refund, we get that.

“Luckily the NRL really helped the clubs… without that help I honestly don’t know if we would be here. It was really tough.

With a short pause, a shot of fear and a lot of hope, he added: “We look forward to what lies ahead.”

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