'Can't be right': Uproar over reports of 'priority' tests for NRL players

Sam Goodwin
Sports Editor

Controversy has erupted over reports NRL clubs will be given access to coronavirus test kits to conduct ‘widespread’ testing of players.

The NRL is desperate to ensure the competition continues in the face of the coronavirus crisis, with league bosses previously warning that a shutdown could have dire financial consequences.

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The NRL and players union have already agreed to implement a self-isolation policy with its players to combat the pandemic.

And the Sydney Morning Herald is now reporting that clubs will be conducting tests of players in a preventative measure.

The NRL is also said to be paying for an independent pathologist to ensure results are returned quicker than normal.

The Bulldogs played the Cowboys behind closed doors at ANZ Stadium on Thursday night. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

“Its reasoning for the expedited test results is that it would rather shut down one team before it plays another, thereby limiting the possibility of infection,” Andrew Webster wrote on Friday.

Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) Chairman Peter V’landys told reporters on Thursday: “We have worked with a private laboratory to get our tests returned quicker.

“The benefit of that private laboratory also is that they will do the tests themselves.”

However the reports of widespread testing has sparked backlash, with social media users furious that NRL players might be given priority to tests when there are members of the public who need them more.

No NRL player has tested positive to date.

Todd Greenberg and Peter V'landys address the media. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The ABC reported earlier this week that Australia is battling a shortage of testing kits and supply is not keeping up with demand.

“This can’t be right?” veteran journo Richard Hinds tweeted in response to the Herald report.

“Tests are limited and only available to the public on a needs/symptoms related basis.

“I’m asking why a non-symptomatic NRL player would have priority for testing over a non-symptomatic teacher, bus driver or garbo.”

Nine reporter Jenny Noyes tweeted: “No NRL player has tested positive yet, so why are players getting blanket fast-tracked testing? There are families in the community with actual symptoms being refused.”

While ABC political reporter Sarah Gerathy wrote: “Non symptomatic NRL players who don’t fit any current testing criteria to be tested for COVID-19 while people in the community with symptoms are turned away? Hmmmmm.”

NRL’s strict new measures to battle virus

The decision to introduce the radical safety measures were among a handful of significant agenda items during Thursday's ARL Commission meeting.

The NRL reiterated its desire to play out the entire premiership season, including all 25 regular season rounds, even if meant deciding a title-winner in December.

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg conceded the game had accepted the fact that it would be forced to shut down at some point in the future.

“(But we'll) go as deep and as far as we need to go,” Greenberg said.

“There's a calendar year that we're trying to commit to and we've got a number of different scenarios.

“If we lose a game or we lose a round we're very confident we can fulfil our obligations.

“We think we can do it all this year.”

And while the current State of Origin dates remain in place, the NRL concede the stadium lockouts mean the money-spinner is likely to be moved to a later date.

The only key outcome out of Thursday's meeting was for players to self-quarantine, a radical step they had initially broached with clubs on Tuesday.

“Taking into account the biosecurity and pandemic experts advice... we will always abide by that advice,” V'landys said.

"What that basically means (is) there will only be essential interaction with our players with the general community. Any non-essential contact will be reduced."

with AAP