The NRL has made the last-minute call to shift State of Origin III from Newcastle to the Gold Coast amid a worsening COVID-19 outbreak in Greater Sydney.
Fearing a major event with a crowd at Newcastle would pose a serious health threat to regional areas in NSW, the state government told the NRL the risk was too great to stage the series finale.
The third match will now be held at Cbus Super Stadium on Wednesday night, marking an extraordinary series in which all three games will be held in Queensland for the first time.
“We are disappointed not to be able to give Newcastle the city’s first State of Origin, but we must operate within all state public health orders and not having a crowd in Newcastle negates the opportunity for our fans from the region,” NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said.
“The Gold Coast has a very low infection rate and both Origin camps are currently located within driving distance of Cbus Stadium.
“It means neither team will be disadvantaged by travel.”
The Blues moved their camp from Central Coast to Kingscliff suddenly this week to get out of the region as they prepare for their first whitewash since 2000.
“It does mean all three games are played in Queensland, but our priority is ensuring the safety of the community and the continuity of the competition,” Abdo added.
Cloud of doubt over Sydney
The sudden shift raises questions about whether the NRL can continue to play in Sydney, even without crowds.
ARL chairman Peter V’landys confirmed to AAP on Friday that relocating the competition to a regional area or to another state was on the table.
Case numbers and locations across the weekend were crucial to that decision, and the game’s bosses will meet with experts again on Sunday to make a call.
However, the decision not to allow Origin in Newcastle with a crowd now puts doubt over whether moving the competition to a regional centre would be of any advantage.
“We have always planned for every contingency and the reason we’re where we are is because we want to have the least inconvenience to the players and their families, so that’s why we’ve stayed here under level four protocols,” V’landys said.
“However, if it gets worse we have to look at relocation.
“We’ve already got that contingency up our sleeve.
“In saying that we’ve got to go to an area we’re confident there’s going to be no infection as well.”