While a travel bubble will open up in a fortnight between Australia and New Zealand, the Wellington Phoenix are set to stay in Wollongong - for now.
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Tuesday afternoon that two-way, quarantine-free travel between the countries will begin on Monday, April 19.
The decision was praised by Wellington general manager David Dome, who confirmed the club would remain based in the Illawarra. However, the Phoenix will continue to look at ways to return to Wellington before the end of the A-League season.
"The announcement from the government is obviously hugely encouraging for us. We had hoped that we would be able to come back to New Zealand at some stage during the season," Dome said.
"We'd put some work in to try and get over there at some stage. We have our schedule sorted out until the middle of May. We've got four game post the middle of May yet to be scheduled, two home and two away. And we'd obviously look to bring those two home games back to New Zealand."
The Phoenix first arrived in the Illawarra in early November for a pre-season camp at the University of Wollongong ahead of the A-League competition. On November 24, Football Australia confirmed that Wellington would play all home games at WIN Stadium in 2020/21 due to travel restrictions caused by Covid.
The Phoenix have since played eight games at WIN Stadium, resulting in two wins, a draw and five losses, including a gritty 3-2 defeat to Melbourne City on Monday night. However, Dome said it had been a successful stint in Wollongong.
"I've been genuinely humbled by the support that the local community has given us, especially in the corporate section. A lot of people and local businesses have come on board to support the club," he said.
"On our match days in the chairman's lounge, it has been full of people talking to each other all around football. It's been excellent, everyone's wanted to help. They've understood what a massive job it is to relocate an entire club to another part of the world."
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While pleased to make Tuesday's announcement, Ms Ardern reiterated that travel would "not be like it was pre-Covid".
"While we absolutely wish to encourage family and friends to reunite and visitors to come and enjoy the hospitality New Zealand is ready and waiting to offer, those undertaking travel on either side of the ditch will do so you were the guidance of flyer beware. People will need to plan for the possibility of travel being disrupted if there is an outbreak," she said.
"This is an exciting day. The Trans-Tasman travel bubble represents a start of a new chapter in our Covid response and recovery, one that people have worked so hard if. That makes New Zealand and Australia relatively unique. I know family, friends and significant parts of our economy will welcome it, as I know I certainly do."