NRL To Restart Season On May 28, With Audacious Coronavirus Plan
Rugby league will return next month, with the NRL to resume in May after postponing the season due to coronavirus.
The season will resume on May 28, after it was paused after just two rounds due to coronavirus restrictions.
Wayne Pearce, head of the NRL's innovation committee which had been charged with finding ways to resume the season, announced the start date on Thursday, but said the actual structure of the competition was still up in the air.
Pearce said the committee had not yet signed off on a competition structure, but said they were leaning toward making the season as normal as possible, signalling that proposed scenarios where the league would be broken into 'conferences' may not be among the preferred options.
"The details of the competition structure, we haven't got to that as of yet, as the landscape's changing very quickly," Pearce said, citing state border closures and travel between cities.
"What we landed on was a starting date. We discussed possible structures but we havent finalised what that looks like yet... what we're leaning towards is a competition structure that looks more aligned with what we've currently got, not a conference scenario at the moment."
Pearce said the NRL "intend to fulfil our contractual obligations" to broadcast networks -- hinting that the league would look to keep the season as close to normal as possible, including around the number of games played.
Proposals for the resumed season had included simply restarting the competition from where it was paused; isolating players in quarantine 'bubbles' with games to be played in a two-conference system; and the novel 'NRL Island' concept, where teams would be quarantined on Moreton Island off Queensland, and ferried to Brisbane to play games each week.
Pearce said the league would ensure strict testing of players and other protocols to limit infection risk.
Around half the teams in the league are based in NSW, which presents fewer headaches around travel. But Pearce said the NRL would have to work with federal health authorities, as well as governments in Queensland, Victoria and New Zealand -- where non-NSW teams are based -- to figure out travel and quarantine restrictions for players to rejoin the competition.
"What's really important for us is the welfare issue. We're working with respective governments - NZ, Victorian and Queensland - for teams that have to travel," he said.
"The welfare issue of players being away from families is a significant factor we need to address."