Australia

NRL players under tight COVID-19 restrictions, State of Origin III may be moved from Sydney


NRL players have been thrust back under the highest level of COVID-19 restrictions as the league ponders how to continue the competition, as well as where State of Origin III will be played.

The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) will on Tuesday hold its most important meeting since the game restarted amid the coronavirus pandemic last May.

The 10 Sydney-based clubs are still training as normal, with four preparing for home matches without crowds, but they are aware they could be moved elsewhere after Tuesday’s meeting.

All clubs have been told to put players and officials back under the league’s level four biosecurity protocols, which bans them from exercising outside their house or club training, while no visitors to their homes are allowed.

The protocols take effect at midnight.

The move follows the mounting Sydney COVID-19 outbreak, with other cases arising around Australia prompting border closures.

“When the competition resumes on Thursday night, players and officials will be under the same protocols as they were when the competition successfully resumed on May 28 last year,” NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said.

“It’s clear the virus is spreading quickly and these measures provide an additional safeguard to ensure the competition can continue.

“Our players, officials and clubs united last year to ensure no risk to the competition or the community and I have every confidence the same will apply as we work through the current challenges.”

The Sydney teams already expect to take a financial hit during the city’s two-week COVID-19 lockdown, with leagues clubs closed and some considering if they need to stand down non-essential staff.

And the second-tier NSW Cup has become an early casualty of the lockdown, called off for the next two weeks with officials trying to work out how it can resume with the NRL in a bubble.

The ARLC must quickly decide whether to move the showpiece third State of Origin match — scheduled to be played on July 14 — out of Sydney, with Newcastle an option if it is to remain in New South Wales.

Gold Coast and Melbourne could also shape as options, with ARLC chairman Peter V’landys revealing over the weekend that financial viability would be a factor.

Regional New South Wales venues are currently allowed 50 per cent capacity, meaning Newcastle’s stadium could house around 16,000 people if restrictions stay as they are at the moment.

“I want them to play in Sydney or New South Wales somewhere,” New South Wales Rugby League chief executive Dave Trodden said.

“Whether that is in Newcastle it is fine by me. But I want it to be in New South Wales for obvious reasons.

“It’s a viable alternative.”

While NRL players remain in a bubble, moving 10 teams out of Sydney remains an option if the NRL is unable to negotiate border crossings with Queensland, Victoria and the ACT.

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AAP


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