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Opinion

NRL 2021 may end very differently to how it started

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Expert
11th July, 2021
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It’s official. The escalating COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney means the NRL is shipping up to Queensland.

The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) met yesterday and made the call, which will see every team except Melbourne in Queensland for at least the next month and most probably longer.

It’s going to be bloody tough on players and officials, who have to say goodbye to their families on three days notice and won’t get the chance to see them for weeks unless the NRL can make it work.

The impacted clubs are in the middle of selecting a crew of 41 people – 30 players and 11 staff – for the duration before flying up on charter flights and playing their home games at one of Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, Cbus Stadium on the Gold Coast, or Sunshine Coast Stadium.

This is on top of Wednesday’s third State of Origin game being shifted from Newcastle to the Gold Coast, where they’ll be able to play in front of a crowd.

It’s good a decision is made and logistics are in motion, but given the situation in Sydney has been known for a while and was always going to get worse before it got better, why did the NRL go ahead with last weekend’s split Round 17, when only four games were played?

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Why put everyone involved at risk of being a close contact or in a position that requires them to isolate for 14 days or, god forbid, contract the virus?

If getting everyone out of town fast was the goal, why wait until Sunday to make the call and then until Wednesday to get everyone out?

Surely Round 17’s four games between non-contending teams (excepting South Sydney) could easily have been rescheduled?

It’s easy to take shots with 20/20 hindsight, and I’m just wondering out loud. But after seeing how Channel Nine reacted to having no NRL on television last year, I’ve can make an educated guess as to why.

With the intricacies of border closures and travel restrictions, it’s probably safe to put money on the Melbourne Storm being back in their Queensland base on the Sunshine Coast before too long. Not that it’ll bother their on-field efforts, because they spent months in Queensland last year on their road to the premiership.

Right now the Victorian government designates Brisbane as a ‘yellow zone’, which means you have to apply for a permit to go to Melbourne.

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The Gold Coast and Townsville are green, which means people can come and go as they please. For now.

You can’t enter Victoria if you have visited a red zone, which as of Sunday afternoon was all of New South Wales. So the NRL will need exemptions and ongoing negotiations to keep the Storm at home.

The Storm have two home and two away games in the next month, with Newcastle and Penrith scheduled to come to Melbourne.

Melbourne Storm generic crowd

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

In saying that, if things stay good in Victoria, who’s to say there can’t be a few extra games played down south?

Making this move gives the NRL the best chance of keeping their draw as planned (or as close to) for the last eight weeks of the home-and-away season, but there’s still a chance games will have to change or move weeks.

Already the toadies in the Daily Telegraph are trumpeting that ARLC chair Peter V’landys and NRL CEO Andrew Abdo have ‘saved the NRL again’, but we are a long, long way from that.

It will be interesting to see which way V’landys goes here. There’s a time to crash through and barrel all out of your way, and there’s time to show tact and be diplomatic.

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So far he’s taking the diplomatic path.

“These are very difficult decisions,” he’s quoted as saying in a statement by the ARLC.

“I feel for the players who have to leave their homes for a period. We will not keep players in Queensland any longer than they need to be. We hope it is only for a month, but if it needs to be longer, it will be. We’re doing this to protect their livelihoods.”

“This will also have a commercial impact on clubs. I have assured all clubs that the NRL will ensure they remain financially strong during this period. The NRL has found extensive efficiencies and commercial revenue over the last year which ensured the game is financially stronger than it otherwise would have been.”

“I want to thank the Queensland government. I personally have a huge debt of gratitude to the Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, for her support of our game.”

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The pressure will be immense on the game’s administrators, players – everyone. If another player stuffs up and breaches their protocols, you can guarantee head office will string them up and make sure everyone else can see.

It’s a heightened time in Australia and there’s too much at stake for the NRL to be seen as going softly on any transgressors.

Yesterday’s statement released by the commission says they will monitor data daily and review arrangements on a weekly basis so they can get teams back to Sydney and Canberra “as soon as the commission believes risk to the competition in NSW has subsided”.

If that’s in a month’s time, that will be brilliant news. But Abdo has already indicated the game will be able to stay in Queensland for the rest of the season if need be.

It looks like Queensland might play host to a lot more rugby league than was planned.

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