The NRL has had a major breakthrough with Queensland Health clearing it to resume play with a triple-header at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday.
Less than 12 hours after being forced to postpone Saturday’s three matches due to a lockdown in south-east Queensland, the NRL was given the green light to continue.
Saturday’s games will now go ahead on Sunday, before a double-header at the same ground on Monday night for the games originally scheduled for Sunday.
It comes after the league put forward a plan to Queensland Health to resume, with all players under stringent restrictions.
Players will be tested daily for COVID-19, there will be compulsory masks for all players and officials not playing, as well as reduced personnel at games.
“Our games will be played under the toughest protocols since the competition resumed on May 28 last year,” NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said.
“These protocols further minimise the risk of community infection.
“We’ve proven over the last two years that we can play safely and the additional measures agreed to tonight will further enhance that.”
Under the changes, Penrith and Melbourne will now be the 4pm Sunday game broadcast on the Nine Network and Fox, while Newcastle face Canberra at 1:50pm and St George Illawarra clash with South Sydney at 6:25pm. Crowds will be banned at all matches.
Canterbury will then face Gold Coast at 6pm on Monday night, before Cronulla and Manly clash at 8:05pm.
The show must go on
Crucially, the NRL is confident that even if the Queensland lockdown extends beyond Tuesday in the south-east, it will be able to continue the season.
AAP understands talks have already began with the state government on being able to play with no crowds in the Brisbane region.
Moving into other regions is also an option, with officials at Townsville’s Queensland Country Bank Stadium putting their hands up to host matches.
Victoria or even regional NSW could represent other options, with brief discussions held with the former on Saturday.
Challenges would, however, remain with players’ families remaining in quarantine on the Gold Coast, potentially creating issues if the competition is shifted elsewhere.
“Every option is on the table,” ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys said.
Officials had been caught off guard when Queensland Health announced a ban on professional sport on Saturday, expecting only a lock down.
That shocked players and staff, with South Sydney already on a plane to Rockhampton to face St George Illawarra while other players were stuck in their hotels.
If further issues arise the NRL does have room to move in its schedule if games have to be pushed back or the competition is suspended, with the end-of-year World Cup unlikely to proceed.
NRL round 20 games on Sunday (all times AEST)
- 1.50pm: Knights v Raiders
- 4.05pm: Storm v Panthers
- 6.25pm: Dragons v Rabbitohs
NRL round 20 games on Monday
- 6pm: Bulldogs v Titans
- 8.05pm: Sharks v Sea Eagles