THE New Zealand Warriors have touched down in Tamworth, after a delayed flight from Auckland.
The squad of more than 40 players and support staff touched down at the renamed Tamworth International Airport in a huge border force operation shortly before 5.30pm on Sunday.
The team was ushered off the Alliance Airlines charter flight, onto the tarmac and then into the terminal building to be cleared by customs.
Amid tight border control and bio-security measures, the squad were then headed for the Mercure Hotel at Wests Tamworth under a police escort.
A large media pack spilled onto the tarmac, while about two dozen locals crowded up against the fence at the airport to witness the city's new VIPs in the first international landing and the only flight for the day.
New Zealander Akanksha Sharma, who immigrated to Tamworth two years ago to work as a flight instructor, said she never expected to see her national team in her adopted town.
"Why Tamworth?" she laughed. When asked if the squad's visit could inspire a new generation of Warriors fans among the city's youth, she was optimistic.
"I hope so!"
Long-term Tamworth resident Cathy Frost said she wasn't a Kiwi fan but nonetheless she "admired" the team for "how they've coped with the COVID-19 situation".
The Warriors - who were minus two players that didn't make the Sunday flight - are excited about their country music capital stay, their chief said.
"We are also grateful to have the use of the facilities that are equivalent to any high performance venue in regional NSW and I'm sure we won't be the last elite team to use them," Warriors CEO Cameron George said.
Wests has been turned into a locked fortress, surrounded by tight security.
Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson was part of the welcoming party at the airport, that included council staff as well as Australian Border Force staff from Newcastle and Oxley police.
"There are a number of significant benefits to having the team located in Tamworth, with local catering companies providing bulk supplies for the 48 member touring party for 14 days," Mr Anderson said.
"Local staff have been reemployed at Wests in a number of areas of the club, including catering, cleaning, accommodation and the ground staff.
"The profile of Tamworth has also been boosted by being at the centre of national attention in the lead up to the team's arrival and will be the focus for the next two weeks."
It's expected the New Zealand Warriors will be in Tamworth until they finish their mandatory quarantine on Sunday 17th May. From there, it's expected they'll head to the Central Coast.
The arrival today was crucial for the restart of the NRL season on May 28.