UPDATED: The relocation of all NSW and ACT-based teams will see 12 NRL teams make the mad dash to Southeast Queensland for one month on Wednesday as NSW battles a growing outbreak of COVID-19 in the state.
The NRL tonight confirmed teams will depart this week in a bid to keep the 2021 season alive and will be away for at least a month.
The ARL Commission were in a meeting this afternoon before they released the plans and advised clubs of the changes.
“NSW and ACT Teams will relocate to dedicated hubs by Wednesday and play home matches out of either Suncorp Stadium, Cbus Stadium or Sunshine Coast Stadium. All Queensland based clubs, along with the Melbourne Storm will continue to be based and play home games out of their current home cities,” the NRL statement read.
“The National Rugby League (NRL) is finalising arrangements with the Queensland Government to ensure every club has access to appropriate facilities at each hub. Clubs will be flown on charter flights to Queensland and comply with Apollo Protocols and public health requirements to ensure no risk to the Queensland Community. Every club will be permitted a maximum of 41 players and staff while in Queensland.
“A revised schedule with the location of games for the next 4 Rounds will be released in the coming days.”
Australian Rugby League Commission Chairman Peter V’landys AM admitted it would be difficult for the players, but remains hopeful the move will last just one month.
“The Commission has conducted an extensive risk assessment and it is clear from the current data trends that the risk to the competition is too great to continue playing in NSW right now. We are seeing close and casual contacts with links to our game on an almost daily basis,” he said.
“Queensland presents much lower risk. The Commission is doing everything we can to keep the competition going. By keeping the competition going we keep people employed and ensure the players continue to be paid at their current rate.
“Rugby League is also an escapism for people during difficult times and it’s important we do everything we can so our fans can continue to watch rugby league every week especially whilst in lockdown.”
“These are very difficult decisions. I feel for the players who have to leave their homes for a period. We will not keep players in Queensland any longer than they need to be. We hope it is only for a month, but if it needs to be longer, it will be. We’re doing this to protect their livelihoods.”
Earlier, Nine’s Danny Weidler revealed that initially the Canberra Raiders would be safe in the capital from a move north, but that stance has since changed with the Raiders included in the relocation.
Even the New Zealand Warriors – based on the Central Coast – and the Newcastle Knights – two hours drive north of Sydney – will have to go to Queensland.
Today NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced there were 77 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the state, and warned Monday’s total is expected to be over 100 new cases.
It comes a day after NRL CEO Andrew Abdo announced a last-minute decision to move Wednesday’s Game Three of State of Origin from Newcastle to the Gold Coast.
The NSW government advised the ARL Commission that it would not allow crowds to attend Game Three in Newcastle due to the growing COVID-19 crisis in greater Sydney, leading to an emergency meeting on Saturday to move the match.
According to the ARLC, the worsening COVID situation in Sydney meant the NSW government believed a crowd could create an additional risk to the regional community, even though there is currently no community transmission in Newcastle.
NSW records 77 new cases
“We are disappointed not to be able to give Newcastle the city’s first State of Origin, but we must operate within all State Public Health Orders and not having a crowd in Newcastle negates the opportunity for our fans from the region,” NRL boss Andrew Abdo said.
“The Gold Coast has a very low infection rate and both Origin camps are currently located within driving distance of Cbus Stadium. It means neither team will be disadvantaged by travel.
“This is an exciting outcome for the Gold Coast. It will be the first time in history that the Gold Coast has hosted State of Origin.”
Earlier on Nine’s Sunday Footy Show, Abdo revealed the NRL was “preparing for multiple scenarios and one of them is relocation” of the competition due to Sydney’s COVID-19 outbreak.
“In this particular case we have nine Sydney-based teams and so it’s very much on the cards that we may need to for a short period of time relocate them to somewhere where there’s a much lower risk of infection,” he said.
“It’s real time. We’ve been working on it for a number of weeks in terms of preparation, now it becomes the practical elements… we’ll have a discussion with our board this evening and then we’ll start communicating plans through to our different stakeholders.”
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