The Queensland government has dealt the NRL a major blow, effectively banning anti-vaccination players for the sport’s soon-to-resume season.
Chief health officer Jeanette Young said on Tuesday NRL players who refused flu shots for ethical or religious reasons would not be allowed to play in Queensland.
In a major setback for the NRL, which hopes to restart its 2020 season on May 28, Dr Young said medical grounds would be the only reason for a vaccination exemption.
The view was swiftly backed by the Gold Coast Titans, which called it a “reasonable request”.
But “no jab, no play” may mean Titans duo Bryce Cartwright and Brian Kelly will remain sidelined for the season.
Both have been stood down after rejecting the jab.
Dr Young’s stance also means any interstate player who refuses a jab on ethical or religious grounds won’t be able to train or play in Queensland.
The NRL’s anti-vaccination players include Manly duo Dylan Walker and Addin Fonua-Blake, Canterbury rake Sione Katoa, plus Canberra trio Josh Papalii, Sia Soliola and Joseph Tapine.
It is believed about 20 players have signed a waiver to avoid a flu jab for various reasons.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys had been confident Queensland would accept biosecurity guidelines that would allow NRL players to sign a waiver to refuse the vaccination.
But Young scotched that plan.
“I sent a letter to the NRL yesterday in which I did exempt them for medical contrary indications,” she said.
“If they have got medical reasons for not being vaccinated [they will receive an exemption].
“If they have had an anaphylactic reaction to previous flu vaccine or any component of a flu vaccine, you do not need to be vaccinated. So I have provided that exemption.”
The Titans said they owed the Queensland government a debt of gratitude for helping the NRL restart by opening borders and granting quarantine exemptions for teams amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are fighting a global pandemic and the state government has granted the NRL an extraordinary privilege, ahead of millions of others, in allowing the competition to resume on May 28,” a spokesman said.
“As part of that, in keeping with their focus to protect and save lives, they have asked for our players to have a flu shot.
“We think it is a reasonable request.”
The Titans spokesman confirmed Cartwright and Kelly would remain sidelined.
The NRL said it accepted Queensland’s call.
“We … are working with clubs to mitigate the impact on the season when it resumes on May 28,” a spokesman said.
“We have always said we will comply with the directions of relevant government and health authorities.
“It will mean a small number of players will be ineligible to play in Queensland while the current restrictions remain in place.”
Gold Coast might also reportedly stop paying Cartwright and Kelly beyond May.
The Sydney Morning Herald has reported the NRL will back the Titans if they freeze payments because the duo is unable to fulfil its contractual obligations.
Elsewhere, the AFL has ordered every listed player to be tested for COVID-19 by Friday before clubs possibly return to full-contact training with complete squads next week.
The mandatory coronavirus tests are to be completed as part of the AFL’s return-to-play plan, which is still being finalised.