As the continuing uncertainty of the latest COVID-19 outbreak affects Sydney, one thing has become certain: the National Rugby League must relocate before it’s too late.
In Sydney itself, games are going ahead without crowds, NRL teams already under stage 4 protocols and the entire greater Sydney area, including the Central Coast and Wollongong, are under lockdown.
In the past two weeks, around 20 NRL players, coaches and referees have been stood down due to breaches, either deliberately breaking protocol or just as a result of having visited an exposure site.
It seems almost inevitable that someone within the bubble could contract the virus, which would cause chaos for the competition.
Two Sydney club games have already been relocated to Newcastle due to government restrictions. Even on Saturday night, State of Origin Game 3, already moved from Sydney to Newcastle, had to be relocated again to the Gold Coast due to further tightening of government restrictions in New South Wales.
With this in mind, the NRL must relocate the nine Sydney clubs, as well as the Warriors, in order to protect the competition.
The two most likely locations at this stage would be regional NSW and south-east Queensland.
With restrictions still in place right around NSW, it appears unlikely that regional centres like Mudgee, Dubbo or Wagga Wagga would be a viable option.
Even if they were, the cost of relocating all the teams to various regional centres, as well as the additional flights and transportation of gear, would likely be too great anyway.
This leaves south-east Queensland as the only likely hub for the NRL.
They already hosted the AFL in 2020, so have experience looking after nearly an entire competition.
There are plenty of venues in that region that can host additional matches.
Suncorp Stadium and Cbus Super Stadium would obviously have to handle the bulk of the matches, but games can also be taken to other venues, such as Clive Berghofer Field in Toowoomba, Marley Brown Oval in Gladstone and Sunshine Coast Stadium, all venues which have hosted first grade in recent seasons.
Moreton Daily Stadium in Redcliffe is also a prospective future venue.
Other options slightly further afield would be available Browne Park in Rockhampton, BB Print Stadium in Mackay and Barlow Park in Cairns, as well as the obvious Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville.
Depending on restrictions in northern NSW, Oakes Oval in Lismore and C.ex Coffs International Stadium could potentially be used, if need be.
For the purposes of training, plenty of local Intrust Super Cup grounds could be shared.
North Ipswich Reserve, Pizzey Park in Burleigh, Langlands Park in Coorparoo, Davies Park in West End, Kougari Oval in Manly, Bishop Park in Nundah and even Glenholme Park in Toowoomba are all potential options.
These options are also better for the NRL financially as it will mean less movement of people and less transportation of equipment, such as those for broadcasting the games.
However, all these ideas will amount to nothing if the NRL wait too long.
Whichever way the NRL choose to continue the season going forward, they have to bite the bullet and get out of Sydney before they lose the competition completely.