Fans rush for grand final tickets
A WORLD in union - and a nation united in league.
The stunning weekend win by the Warriors over the Storm - straight off the back of the All Blacks win over France - has created a surge in fan support and prompted a mad dash for tickets to the NRL grand final.
Rugby personalities - from Wallaby Quade Cooper to All Black assistant coach Steve Hansen - were backing the Warriors to win the final against Manly in Sydney this Sunday.
And as hundreds of fans welcomed the Warriors home at Auckland Airport after their brilliant 20-12 victory over the Melbourne Storm, Air New Zealand was scrambling to put on extra seats to Sydney for the grand final.
On Sunday, an Air NZ $999 (AU$802) promotion of tickets to the final and return flights was snapped up by 300 people in under an hour.
Grabaseat manager Duane Perrott said Air NZ was trying to free up one more plane. If that was possible, more deals were likely to go online today.
The Warriors' win came on a weekend when more than 120,000 rugby fans packed Eden Park for Saturday night's All Blacks-France World Cup match and yesterday's Samoa-Fiji clash.
The Ireland-Russia match in Rotorua yesterday was also a sellout, and some commentators now predict this will be the best Rugby World Cup ever.
On Saturday, after their 37-17 demolition of France and the presentation of captain Richie McCaw's 100th test cap, the All Blacks caught the final moments of the Warriors' victory on television.
Hansen said players watched the game while "supping their recovery drinks".
"When they [the Warriors] scored their last try, there was a lot of excitement in the room and guys pumping the air, so we wish them well and hope they manage to pull off their dream. Go the Warriors!"
The All Blacks' own immediate destiny seemed to be a little more certain last night as Argentina defeated Scotland 13-12 in a pool match in Wellington. The result means the South Americans are likely to meet New Zealand in the quarter-finals in two weeks.
When asked who he was tipping to win the NRL grand final, New Zealand-born Australian rugby star Quade Cooper tweeted: "Hopefully the warriors ... yeyay".
The Warriors' loudest fan, the Mad Butcher Sir Peter Leitch, said he had told them after the game to enjoy the week. "I said to the boys in the changing room, 'Sit back and enjoy the ride, boys. Don't get your heads up your arse, but enjoy the ride. It's a fantastic journey'."
Sir Peter said Prime Minister John Key had texted "You beauty" and "What a ripper" and would be his buddy at the final on Sunday.
"He said that he will definitely be coming to the grand final. I'm looking forward to him sitting in the grandstand with the Butcher."
Last night, a noisy and exuberant crowd of 300 greeted the Warriors at Auckland Airport.
"The Beast", Manu Vatuvei, said through a huge grin that the team usually got through the airport quickly, but the crowd was never going to be moved through at any pace.
"It just shows the support we've got and what we're out on the field to do."
Centre Lewis Brown, whose try put victory beyond the Storm's reach, said he remembered being in the stands as a 15-year-old in 2002 at the Warriors' only other final appearance. They lost that game to the Roosters.
"To be involved with one is going to be special ... "It's really crazy isn't it? We've still got one to go. It's a big mountain to climb but, you know, we're willing to climb it."