NRL players and officials have been thrust back under the tightest level of COVID-19 biosecurity restrictions as the league’s bosses ponder how to continue the competition.
The ARL Commission will on Tuesday hold its most important meeting since the game restarted amid the coronavirus pandemic last May on Tuesday.
The 10 Sydney-based clubs are still training as normal, with four preparing for home games without crowds, but they are aware they could be moved elsewhere after Tuesday’s meeting.
All clubs have been told to put players back under the toughest – level 4 – restrictions, banned from leaving home unless training, playing or completing an essential household task, and with no visitors to homes allowed.
It follows the mounting Sydney COVID-19 outbreak, with other cases popping up around the country, prompting border closures.
“When the competition resumes on Thursday night, players and officials will be under the same protocols as they were when the competition successfully resumed on May 28 last year,” NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said.
“It’s clear the virus is spreading quickly and these measures provide an additional safeguard to ensure the competition can continue.
“Our players, officials and clubs united last year to ensure no risk to the competition or the community and I have every confidence the same will apply as we work through the current challenges.”
The Sydney teams already expect to take a financial hit during the city’s two-week COVID-19 lockdown, with leagues clubs closed and some considering if they need to stand down non-essential staff.
And the second-tier NSW Cup has become an early casualty of the lockdown, called off for the next two weeks with officials trying to work out how it can resume with the NRL in a bubble.
At a representative level, league bosses must quickly decide whether to move the showpiece third State of Origin game out of Sydney, with Newcastle a front-running option if it is to remain in NSW.
Beyond that, both Gold Coast and Melbourne could shape as options with ARLC chairman Peter V’landys revealing over the weekend that financial viability would be a factor.
Regional NSW venues are currently allowed 50 per cent capacity, meaning Newcastle’s McDonald Jones Stadium could house around 16,000 people if restrictions stay as they are.
“I want them to play in Sydney or NSW somewhere,” NSWRL boss Dave Trodden said
“Whether that is in Newcastle it is fine by me. But I want it to be in NSW for obvious reasons.
“It’s a viable alternative.”
Moving the 10 teams Sydney-based NRL teams remains an option if the NRL is unable to negotiate border crossings with Queensland, Victoria and the ACT.
“This is a greater challenge than last year because (the virus) is so much more contagious,” V’landys told AAP over the weekend.
“I used to use the figures that a player had one-in-10,000 chances in catching it last year for a player. That’s not the case now.
“We’re told it’s airborne and that makes it a much higher risk.
“The lockdown helps us though, because with less people moving around, there’s less risk for the players to catch the virus.”