Melbourne Storm says its return to NRL training in Albury won’t be affected by a shock local council decision to ban it from using its preferred ground.
The warm welcome for the Warriors in Tamworth wasn’t repeated for Storm in the NSW-Victoria border town, with Albury City councillors holding an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday night and voting five to four against it using any council-managed facilities.
Melbourne had intended using Greenfields Park, the home of the local rugby league team.
Deputy mayor Amanda Cohn, who is a doctor, described allowing Storm to use council grounds when others could not as a “slap in the face”.
Melbourne Storm will continue with plans to base itself at Albury.#YourAlburyStorm
— Melbourne Storm (@Albury) (@storm) May 5, 2020
Aware of the growing backlash, Storm already had a back-up plan and will instead use Albury Sports Ground, which is the home of the Albury Tigers AFL team, and not managed by the council.
“We were aware of some of the challenges that some of the councillors were expressing and had a contingency plan,” Storm boss Dave Donaghy told Fox League Live.
He acknowledged the fear around coronavirus but said his team would follow strict NRL biosecurity guidelines.
He said the team could be described as “ghosts” given how little it would have to do with the local community.
Donaghy said he was disappointed by council’s decision.
“I wasn’t particularly shocked but certainly disappointed is the best way to sum it up,” he said.
“The economy of these country towns is hugely depressed and this is injecting tens of thousands of dollars into the community.
“I would have hated to tell those traders that we weren’t coming any more.”
Breaking: Melbourne Storm not permitted to use @AlburyCity public facilities for training after extraordinary council meeting tonight. Thank you to councillors that voted with me for one set of rules for all of us, and to make health and safety our top priorities ♥️
— Amanda Cohn (@DrAmandaCohn) May 5, 2020
A party of 50 players and staff arrived in Albury on Tuesday and will remain until at least Friday, even without the support.
The plan had NSW government approval but some councillors said it smacked of “double standards” given the restrictions on the general community.
In a spirited online council meeting, it was pointed out by those against the ban motion that trains stopped regularly in Albury from Melbourne, with passengers alighting without any consideration to health risks posed to the community.
Dr Cohn said backing Storm to use facilities was “an unacceptable double standard”.
“Many of our residents have made tremendous sacrifices to keep the (COVID-19) rates so low in Albury-Wodonga and we’ve only had 11 cases,” Dr Cohn said.
“People have lost their jobs … they’re unable to participate in their own community sport, they’re unable to attend weddings and funerals and I think it’s a slap in the face to people who have been doing the right thing for weeks to allow 50 people from Melbourne to come and use our public facilities.”
Cr Murray King warned that Storm would never return to Albury if it was banned from the facilities.
“Those councillors who think the Melbourne Storm will ever come back to Albury have rocks in their head,” Cr King said.
“We are damaging the brand of Albury by this extraordinary meeting.
“The theories from some of the councillors that override the chief medical officer of NSW and all the other experts is just bizarre.”