Melbourne Storm’s NRL home game against New Zealand Warriors on Friday night has been moved from AAMI Park to Sydney because of the spike of coronavirus cases in Victoria.
The match will now take place at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, with the league’s Apollo team saying the health and safety of players, staff and the wider community remains paramount.
Storm will fly to Sydney later this week to complete preparations and all players and football staff will undergo COVID-19 tests to ensure no risk to the competition.
NRL acting CEO Andrew Abdo thanked the Melbourne club “for putting the game ahead of their personal circumstances”.
“What I’m most proud about this year is that every obstacle we have faced the game has banded together to reach an outcome in the best interests of the overall competition,” Abdo said.
It was important to take decisive action … We have shown that if there is even the slightest risk of infection, we won’t hesitate to reschedule or relocate games.’’
Storm officials had earlier on Monday been locked in emergency discussions with the NRL, accepting the relocation of the match to interstate was likely.
In a dramatic day at league HQ, Thursday’s game between Penrith and South Sydney has also been moved due to surface concerns at Campbelltown.
The Panthers-Rabbitohs match will also be played at Kogarah’s Netstrata Jubilee Oval.
Breaking: @storm clash with @NZWarriors officially moved to Kogarah on Friday night. All players and Storm staff to be tested for COVID-19 before kick-off, club will fly out later in the week @NRLcom https://t.co/lwCwUUjO84 pic.twitter.com/2INUHG6NdM
— Dan Walsh (@dan_walsh64) June 22, 2020
The shifting of the Storm game comes after Victoria’s number of coronavirus cases increased by 16 overnight.
The state’s active COVID-19 case numbers are the highest they have been in more than two months after six days of double-digit growth.
It was only last week that Storm had a request for 296 corporate attendees for the Warriors game rejected by the state government.
The AFL Round 4 schedule has yet to be affected, with Victorian clubs still set to host games at Marvel Stadium and the MCG this weekend.
But Storm players were already preparing for an indefinite move out of town.
“We’ve braced for the potential that we might need to relocate and potentially play some of our home games in Queensland or NSW,” prop Christian Welch said.
"The sacrifice the Warriors made is incredible and every player at Storm is more than happy to relocate for some games. It isn't ideal, but it pales in significance to some of the issues Australians are facing right now."
Welchy puts things in perspective:
— Melbourne Storm (@storm) June 22, 2020
Storm would be the second NRL team to temporarily relocate, with the New Zealand-based Warriors currently staying on the NSW central coast.
They have not been back to Auckland since May 3.
“The problems in Australia economically, people are out of jobs and we’re heading into a recession. This is a serious thing,” Welch said.
“If we need to relocate and play some games in another state, we’re more than happy to do that. Every player here is happy to do that.
“And the team we’re playing, the Warriors, the sacrifice they’ve made to leave their families in New Zealand and fly across and stay here for so long, it’s incredible.
“Looking at the issue, it pales in significance compared to some of the real issues Australians are going through every day at the moment.”
NRL players were granted permission to break their coronavirus bubbles on Sunday, allowing them to visit restaurants and cafes.
However given the predicament in Victoria, Storm players have been instructed to avoid potential at-risk areas in the state.
“Everyone’s just trying to be responsible with the protocols we’ve got because you can see the effect,” Welch said.
“If a player does test positive, it makes huge changes across the competition.”