The Warriors have suffered a disastrous injury blow after first-choice prop Leeson Ah Mau suffered a pectoral muscle rupture while training in quarantine.
Ah Mau, 30, will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be sidelined for up to four months, probably ruling him out of the entire NRL season.
Scans on Sunday confirmed the club’s worst fears after the Kiwis international suffered damage to his chest during a training session at the club’s Tamworth facility on Friday.
He will remain in Australia for the operation before returning home to Auckland.
The durable Ah Mau has been one of the most consistent performers for the Warriors since returning to the club last year. He was the only squad member to play all 24 games in 2019.
The absence of the 205-game first grade veteran will leave an enormous hole for coach Stephen Kearney to fill.
Kearney is already without powerful carrier Bunty Afoa and rising prospect Jackson Frei because of season-ending injuries to both front-rowers.
He may be forced to start rookie signing Jamayne Taunoa-Brown alongside a fit-again Agnatius Paasi in their competition opener against St George Illawarra on May 30.
The other middle forward options are Lachlan Burr, Adam Blair and Isaiah Papali’i, who all have limited recent experience at prop.
The club may activate their option to apply for a replacement.
Before they flew out two weeks ago for their long vigil in Australia, chief executive Cameron George said he had pushed the NRL for that concession.
“The squad we’re taking across is the intended squad that we play with for the duration of the season,” George said.
“But if things change for personal reasons for individuals, on a case-by-case basis we can make application to the NRL, particularly on compassionate grounds.
“The NRL have been really good in that regard and … they’re prepared to at least look at an application from our club, which is a good assurance for us.”
Ah Mau has played 16 Tests for Samoa but more recently has appeared nine times for New Zealand after his services were sought by Kiwis coach Michael Maguire.