With fewer than ten NRL players remaining unvaccinated, Rugby League Players Association CEO Clint Newton remains hopeful that no more footballers would be lost to the game.
Newton said it would be a “real shame” if anyone followed the lead of John Asiata, whose refusal to be jabbed led him to depart Canterbury in December.
Notably, two-time premiership-winning Melbourne prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona – who hasn’t started pre-season training with his team due to Victorian regulations – and North Queensland captain Jason Taumalolo have been hesitant to be vaccinated.
Asofa-Solomona has been linked with a move to Japanese rugby in 2023 but the Storm are striving to reach a resolution so he can return to the club in the coming weeks.
“The positive thing for the whole game is we’re in single figures (of unvaccinated players),” Newton told SEN 1170 on Thursday.
“I think one of the key things here is that without a mandate, 99 per cent of players have got vaccinated.
“Those players that remain unvaccinated, there’s a framework for clubs to work through and players are aware of that and their agents.
“It’s going to largely depend on state government regulations and also stadia restrictions that are in place. We’re hopeful that players will work through that.
“We’re still optimistic about ensuring that we don’t see any other players exit the NRL.
“We certainly think that will be a real shame for everyone given the fact that I think we can get through it.”
Newton expressed confidence that players who have contracted COVID will quickly regain fitness.
He said the virus had affected players differently, with some being asymptomatic and only learning of their positive result through a daily rapid antigen test at training.
“Players are rebounding and they will be available for trials and for the season,” Newton said.
“It’s not without some risks. The NRL have developed a return to training and playing mandate, which we’re certainly supportive of to make sure we’re monitoring players that have had COVID and making sure they’re returning as safely as possible.”
Gold Coast forward Kevin Proctor has returned from his bout of COVID, and after his first training session since his diagnosis, the veteran says he’s feeling strong again ahead of his 15th NRL season.
Proctor was among a large contingent of the Titans playing squad and staff forced into isolation over the Christmas break.
Like many of their NRL rivals, Gold Coast have trained with limited numbers in recent weeks but should soon have a full squad, according to Proctor, with only a few troops currently in quarantine.
“It’s been a weird start after New Year’s with all the boys getting COVID, but all the boys are dealing with it really well and just getting on with the job,” the second-rower said.
Proctor’s experience with the virus was on the milder end of the scale.
“I lost my appetite and I found it hard to breathe sometimes, but other than that I was OK,” the 32-year-old said.
“I didn’t have any coughing or (other) illnesses. It wasn’t too bad, but I’m sure it affects other people differently.
“The club have been easing us back in. The first couple of sessions, it was pretty heavy breathing, short of breath kind of thing.
“I’m not sure if that was just the COVID or that I hadn’t trained in two or three weeks.”
Despite the health setback, Proctor is fit and raring to go as he nears the completion of his 15th NRL pre-season.
The off-contract forward hasn’t decided if he will continue his 275-game career past 2022 but his passion is yet to fade.
“The body’s feeling good. No niggles,” he said.
“Last year’s pre-season I had a few niggles, especially at this time of year, and they pulled me out of the All Stars game.”
After sharing the captaincy in 2021 with Jamal Fogarty, who has joined Canberra, Proctor isn’t fazed about being reappointed skipper.
“It’s obviously a massive privilege but it doesn’t change what I do on or off the field anyway. It’s just a title to me,” he said.
And after guiding the Titans to their first finals appearance since 2016 last season, Proctor has set down clear values for the team.
“Even if the ‘c’ is next to your name, you don’t look down on some of the guys that have trained and trailed, or your pay packet’s bigger than these guys’ – no one’s better than anyone else here,” he said.
“There’s a no ‘D-word’ policy.”