The Australian Rugby League Commission is planning to restart the NRL competition on May 28, hoping to complete the remaining 22 rounds of the regular season and finish in November.
Following landmark meetings with the NRL’s innovation committee on Thursday, the ARLC has approved plans to get the competition up and running almost 10 weeks after it was suspended.
It would make the NRL the first major sport in the world to recommence a competition during the coronavirus pandemic.
State of Origin will also remain in a standard three-game format, with one grand final in Sydney.
The commission is considering two season structures, but are leaning towards completing the remaining 22 rounds of a regular NRL season rather than playing in conferences to satisfy broadcasters in delicate negotiations that will begin next week.
It comes after free-to-air broadcast partners Channel Nine released a scathing statement accusing the NRL of mismanaging funds, and leaving it with an unfulfilled contract.
“Our goal is to give as much certainty as we can in uncertain times. There is clear evidence the curve is flattening,” ARLC chairman Peter V’landys said on Thursday.
“The NSW government has done a great job in reducing the infection rate from 22.27 per cent when we suspended the competition to 1.43 per cent today.
“The situation is changing dramatically and we need to get moving.
It is in the best interests of our clubs, our players, our stakeholders and, importantly, our fans that the competition resumes as quickly and as safely as possible.
“We have said right from the start that what we say today may need to change tomorrow.
“We will be flexible, and if the trend changes or if government restrictions change, then so will we.
“The health and safety of our players and the general public remains the absolute priority.”
All 16 NRL coaches were involved in a phone hookup on Thursday where the proposed return date was clarified, along with the preferred competition structure to allow clubs to prepare.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson, who is on the NRL’s innovations committee, told clubs they could expect to play the remaining 13 clubs (excluding those played in the first two rounds) as well as the potential for rivalry games to round out the season.
“That’s obviously still to be determined, but that’s the likely structure going forward,” Brisbane coach Anthony Seibold told Fox Sports.
“We’re hoping that when the Warriors get out of isolation in Australia that teams can start training in early May, that’s the intention.”
Wayne Pearce, who is in charge of season-salvaging Project Apollo, said the commission is considering two potential season structures but is moving away from the idea of housing players in isolation ‘bubbles’ in Sydney due to the reduced infection rate in Australia.
“What we’re leaning towards is a competition structure that looks more aligned with what we’re currently got,” Pearce said.
“We’ve currently got support from the NSW government in terms of if we adhere to public health guidelines and we make sure that our players follow those guidelines, we are able to train and play.
“Provided that we have strict measures around testing of players, and put some other protocols in place that allow us to minimise the risk of infection within the playing group and community.”
Current border restrictions mean the Warriors would be required to quarantine for 14 days before they were able to train and join the 16-team competition.