The NRL will shift out of New South Wales on Sunday night after an emergency ARL Commission meeting determined relocation is the only option amid Sydney’s rapidly-growing COVID-19 outbreak.
New coronavirus case numbers across the weekend reached 127 in Greater Sydney and triggered a swift response from the NRL.
Sunday’s meeting came after the NRL was forced to move Wednesday’s State of Origin III game from Newcastle to Gold Coast because the NSW government does not want crowds at a major event while dealing with alarming case numbers.
The Origin shift made on Saturday night heightened speculation about whether the NRL was preparing to move club games to either rural NSW or Queensland to ensure the competition continues.
It was quickly decided the 12 NSW and ACT-based teams would move to Queensland, potentially for a month or more.
The NRL competition is set to fly over the state and territory, playing the majority of games in the northern state while the Melbourne Storm remain at home.
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo earlier confirmed the Sunday meeting would take place with all options on the table after weeks of preparation for a worst-case scenario.
He flagged the relocation would happen in stages once appropriate facilities were confirmed to allow the final eight weeks of the regular season to be played without disruption.
“It’s a big logistical operation but it’s one we’re up for,” Abdo told Nine’s Footy Show, adding that the NRL was able to cover the cost of relocation.
“There’s a significant amount of cost we’re incurring at the moment, there’s a cost on relocation and the cost of not being able to get the commercial revenue from games,” he continued.
“The good news is we’ve removed costs, we’ve been fighting for every dollar to replenish our bank account as fast as we can and we’ll be ready for this contingency.
“We’ve done the cost analysis on the worst-case scenario, we’ll be able to fund this and we’ll be able to support our clubs through this.”
Players are already under strict level-four restrictions with several breaches adding to the difficulty of negotiating with state governments for travel permits across borders.
It’s a frustration for not only the NRL, but for the clubs and players doing the right thing.
Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson has backed the NRL to make the right call to keep the game running, whatever it takes.
Last year the entire competition was put on hold for two months while the NRL formed agreements with state governments and created biosecurity guidelines to re-start the game.
“Anything we can do to keep the game going, tell us and we’ll do it,” Robinson said.
“We know how important it is, most people lost income, the players had to reduce income, they’ve reduced salary caps and office staff went onto Job Keeper. We need to keep this game going.
“I don’t want to move out of my home with my partner and kids and not see them but if it means that our whole industry, not just the players and coaches, if everybody can work and sustain the income that comes into the game so all of us can work, then we’ll do what we have to.”