The NRL has begun exploring what their season could look like without the Warriors should the club return home to New Zealand next week.
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg revealed on Monday that the radical step of shifting to a 15-team competition was among a handful of scenarios being considered to combat the impact of the coronavirus.
It comes as ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys revealed the league has organised chartered flights for teams travelling interstate this weekend.
“We’re flying the players on individual flights rather than commercial flights,” V’landys said on NRL 360 on Monday.
“We are bringing them back straight after the game so they’re not staying at hotels. As long as we can reduce the social interaction, it’ll minimise the risk.”
Flights or no flights, the immediate status of the Warriors remains up in the air.
Due to travel restrictions back home, the New Zealand club are currently in Kingscliff in northern NSW preparing for their Round 2 match against Canberra.
However the Warriors have yet to commit to staying in Australia beyond this week, raising grave concerns about their inclusion for the rest of the season.
The New Zealand and Australian governments currently require all international arrivals to self-quarantine for at least a fortnight due to the coronavirus, ruling out home-and-away fixtures for Stephen Kearney’s side.
“It’s very possible to continue the competition if the Warriors want to go home,” Greenberg said on Monday.
“Of course we want all 16 clubs playing in the competition, but that’s a step that is a scenario and we’ll only get to that after this weekend.”
Warriors coach Kearney said the prospect of his team being left out of this year’s race had yet to be brought up during his discussions with the league.
“We haven’t even got that far,” Kearney said.
“The focus was on what was going to happen this week. Todd came in on Saturday night, spoke with us about what was going to happen this week.
“Who knows what’s going to happen in a week’s time? Two weeks’ time?”
Greenberg said the Warriors will be forced into making some key decisions following their “home” game against the Raiders on Saturday.
The match, originally at Eden Park, will now be played at Cbus Super Stadium in Robina.
“We understand that they have to make their own decisions. But we are trying to look at it in the context of the whole competition,” Greenberg said.
A 15-team competition is one of several options being considered as the game desperately attempts to continue in the midst of the pandemic.
It is believed the league is also looking at the viability of pushing the season as deep as November, should circumstances allow.
“We’ve got a small room in here (Rugby League Central), call it the second bunker if you like,” Greenberg said.
“We’ve got staff literally running through draw after draw and permutations of lower numbers of teams.”
Asked what it meant for this season if the Warriors returned home, Greenberg said: “It means they’d be back in New Zealand not playing in the NRL competition until such time as this virus has passed. So we’ll be playing with 15 clubs, not 16.”
Another idea being considered by the league is flying all 16 teams to the northern part of Australia in a bid to continue the season.
“(The) further up north you go, the lower variety of coronavirus. They’re very small numbers up through Queensland and above,” Greenberg said.
“So clearly in warmer climates there’s some opportunities for us to think about.
“We’re modelling it. It’s not as far-fetched as some people might think. I’m not suggesting we’re doing it, but it’s certainly not off the table either.”
Late on Monday, the Sydney Roosters announced their match on Saturday against Manly will be played at Leichhardt Oval instead of on the Central Coast.