The Sydney Swans hastily flew out of NSW on Thursday night, minus three assistant coaches, as the AFL and NRL map out a response to growing concern about COVID-19 cases.
Players and staff at Sydney’s two AFL clubs were instructed to get tested late on Wednesday in response to a confirmed case in the eastern suburbs.
Sydney Roosters NRL players were on Thursday morning rushed for tests, some 36 hours out from Friday night’s league clash with Parramatta.
The NRL will implement level three protocols from midday Friday, with players, football staff and officials forced to remain at home unless training, exercising or shopping for essential needs.
The Swans confirmed all club tests had returned negative results.
However, coach John Longmire’s right-hand men Don Pyke, Jarrad McVeigh and Dean Cox did not travel with the squad to Melbourne because they visited a hotspot location on Monday.
Longmire’s squad was slated to fly out on Saturday for their MCG match against Melbourne, but that departure has been brought forward to Thursday night.
The hastily-packed squad’s return will be dictated by Sydney’s COVID-19 numbers in coming days.
Head coach Longmire – like Pyke, McVeigh and Cox – was at Azure Cafe on Monday.
But Longmire’s visit was outside the exposure window of 12.30pm-1pm, when the known COVID-19 case was at the Moore Park venue.
It’s believed no Roosters players or staff were in the cafe at the same time as the confirmed case.
The NSW government announced on Thursday that masks would be compulsory indoors in Sydney for the next three days, also revealing the original case’s wife had tested positive for coronavirus.
The AFL, having only recently shifted this round’s Fremantle-Brisbane match from Perth to Brisbane, has opted against moving Saturday’s GWS-Essendon game from Giants Stadium to another venue.
But the Giants-Bombers contest will now start at 2.10pm AEST rather than 1.45pm, ensuring the visitors’ charter flight can travel in and out of Sydney on the same day.
“We did it a fair bit last year,” Bombers coach Ben Rutten told reporters, when asked about flying in and out on the same day of a game.
“We saw last year that teams were able to win when they did that.
“You can make as much of it as you like really, but the guys are pretty well prepared. They’re professionals.”
The AFL’s biggest worry, assuming the Giants also return negative tests, will be predicting the ease of upcoming interstate travel in and out of Sydney.
If coronavirus case numbers grow then border closures could result in the Swans and Giants having stints in exile outside NSW.
“You just need to be ready for anything,” GWS veteran Callan Ward said.
“We’ll just adapt.”
The Giants are confident that players and staff weren’t in any of the exposure sites, while A-League club Sydney FC didn’t ask players and staff to be tested on the basis that they had not been in hotspots.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared that outdoor events, like NRL and AFL games, “should go ahead” this weekend and that crowd capacity will not be reduced.
Magic Round also now shapes as a serious concern for the NRL given teams are due to to head to Brisbane next week.
Queensland and other states are yet to shut the border to Sydney, but will be closely monitoring COVID-19 data.