The NRL saw two rounds of the 2020 season before coronavirus blew the whistle. (AAP Image: Craig Golding)
NRL clubs will be able to resume training from May 4 as the competition charges towards its planned May 28 restart.
- The league says it has the green light from government to resume competition on May 28
- The structure of the competition has yet to be finalised but points earned at the start of the year will carry over
- The league is still working out how to get the Warriors over from New Zealand
Australian Rugby League (ARL) commissioner Wayne Pearce confirmed ahead of a meeting with clubs that teams would have a three-week preseason before the competition resumed.
He said the league had been given the green light from state and federal governments to restart after establishing a new set of health and biosecurity protocols.
ARL chairman Peter V’landys said “there’s no reason not to resume”.
“The infection rate in NSW has been less than 1 per cent in the last 10 days, coming down from 22.27 per cent when we suspended the season on March 23,” he said.
The league said those protocols “will be more stringent than government restrictions”, with as yet undetermined sanctions for anyone who breaks them.
“Right from the start we said player, staff and officials’ health and safety would be the priority and we would base the rules on the advice of the experts,” V’landys said.
“These will be the toughest possible protocols but they need to be to ensure our playing group and staff stay healthy and the game can continue.”
The NRL said its standards would be reviewed whenever federal or state government protocols were.
Rugby League Players’ Association chief executive Clint Newton said he wanted to see more details before May 28 “is considered a definitive date” for players to return to the field.
“These fundamental areas include assurances and protections relating to the health and safety of our members,” his statement read.
“The outstanding matters, such as confirmation that players will have access to the appropriate medical facilities and services should they be injured, are paramount before reaching a definitive return date.”
Points from first two rounds to remain
The league’s Project Apollo innovations committee has been planning the return of competition after COVID-19 forced the suspension of the 2020 season in late March after just two rounds.
The specifics of the league’s process will be endorsed by the ARL Commission in the next week, with project leader Pearce saying Wednesday’s Apollo meeting went a long way to clarifying the logistics.
“What was also confirmed, that the competition points that had been earned in the first two rounds will carry over to the extended competition,” he said.
“Everyone is supportive of what we’re doing. Everyone is unified into getting back on the field.
“We feel like we owe it to not just the players and coaches but the thousands of staff members at various clubs and associated industries that are out on the unemployment lines too.”
ARL commissioner Wayne Pearce has been leading Project Apollo to plan the resumption of the 2020 season. (AAP: Brendan Esposito)
The league had announced a planned restart date of May 28 earlier in the month, attracting scepticism from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard.
At the time, Pearce showed a letter from Police Commissioner Mick Fuller that said the league was not prohibited from training and playing in pursuit of work, provided it adhered to public health guidelines.
Pearce said the structure of the resumed competition was yet to be formalised as the league held negotiations with broadcast partners.
“We hope that we’ll be in a position, sooner rather than later, to announce what the competition structure looks like and what the end date of the competition will be,” he said.
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The other key issue yet to be finalised is how to get the Warriors into Australia from New Zealand.
“We are working with the government authorities to get them over here and get them through a quarantine period and have them ready with the other teams for the start of the competition,” Pearce said.
The other non-NSW teams will “have to come into camp in NSW, but the landscape is changing pretty quickly,” Pearce said.
Pearce praised the Australian and New Zealand governments for bringing infection rates down and said the league was looking to hold itself to standards exceeding community expectations.
ARL chairman Peter V’landys had earlier said the NRL’s protocols would become the benchmark for other sports.
“There will be minimal risk to the players and the community. And they would probably be at more of a risk if they didn’t play than if they did play,” V’landys said last week.
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