With COVID-19 on the rise in the UK, rugby league has imposed strict protocols for getting Super League back underway, doing away with scrums. And while there are positive swabs each week among professional players – two Red Devils players were ruled out of the final with COVID-19 – there have been no known transmissions during games.
This allowed junior rugby league to return at the weekend.
Players from both Challenge Cup final teams will be tested on Monday. If there are no positives, it’s likely both clubs will receive warnings. But if there is a positive, in the case of Leeds video will have to be poured over and anyone who embraced the sufferer will be stood down.
In the case of Salford, the photos posted on social media will be examined and a large number of players could be forced to isolate. Salford on Friday night plays Wigan, which had to postpone its own match against Catalans on Thursday when three of the Warriors’ staff tested positive.
Leeds play champions St Helens in Friday’s second match. Central to the caution is Super League being able to fulfil its contractual obligations to broadcaster Sky, who bankroll the sport in England.
Sunday’s event was a glimpse into how next week’s NRL grand final could have been if Australia hod not been so successful at limiting the impact of the Global Pandemic.
Some 550 TV crew, officials, players, staff and media were the only people inside the world’s most famous stadium for a final that has in the past attracted more than 90,000 spectators.
Every individual was interviewed by a medical consultant upon entry, masks were compulsory and media representatives could only leave their benches to go to the toilet. Every word from the players echoed around the empty arena, with Lance Todd Trophy winner Richie Myler winning votes from media representatives based on his verbal generalship as well as his physical feats.
There were controversies. Referee Liam Moore, 27, pinged Salford’s Pauli Pauli for an incorrect play-the-ball with five minutes left and Leeds promptly marched upfield for Gale to kick the winning field goal.
There was pathos. The Rhinos dedicated the victory to former England half Rob Burrow, who is battling Motor Neurone Disease and was named official guest “in absentia”.
And there were tears. Salford half Kevin Brown has now lost four finals with four different clubs.
“It’s as low as I’ve felt, in rugby and in life in general,” he said in early evening, an empty stadium having grown even emptier. “I don’t know how many more of these I can take.”
LEEDS 17 (Ash Handley 2, Tom Briscoe tries; Rhyse Martin 2 goals; Luke Gale field goal) defeated SALFORD 16 (Rhys Williams, Pauli Pauli, James Greenwood tries; Krisnan Inu 2 goals) at Wembley Stadium. Referee: Liam Moore.