Cameron Smith has rallied against the NRL’s reported proposal to keep all 16 teams in a ‘bubble’ environment when the season is restarted.
All 16 teams could be quarantined under a radical proposal being considered to resume the competition during the coronavirus pandemic.
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It would mean players would be separated from their families for a potential 14-week regular season that could start as early as late May.
Throw in a four-week finals series and a potential State of Origin campaign, and some players may not be back home until mid-October.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, part of the proposal includes ‘prison-like’ treatment in which players will be asked to complete a 14-day program in ‘solitary confinement’.
“The NRL committee will be told a staged lockdown program will need to be enforced for 14 days, isolating each player and staff member in a room with food to be delivered to their door and exercise equipment available in their room,” Michael Chammas of the Herald wrote on Wednesday.
But Melbourne Storm champion Smith doesn’t like the sound of it.
“To ask players to be away from their families, for an extended period of time, would be extremely difficult. It’s not what we do for a living. We’re footballers,” Smith told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“We’re not workers who fly in, fly out. We’re not away for extended periods of time from our families.
“I understand these are extraordinary times. But where do we draw the line about what’s important and what’s not?
“If we’re locked down, or in isolation, that can’t be good either; where you wake up in your hotel room, go to training and play, then back to your hotel room. That can’t be great for people’s state of mind.”
Welfare officer says mental health at risk
The NRL has yet to nut out the details on how much staff would be allowed to stay in potential lockdown sites based in NSW and Queensland.
An innovation committee will discuss the idea when it convenes on Thursday, however Parramatta chaplain George Dansey says including welfare officers is a non-negotiable.
Dansey, who has been with the Eels for almost a decade, says the plan would create an enormous challenge for support staff.
“It's definitely going to bring wellbeing to the core because we'll be checking in every single day, not just with players, but partners and kids,” Dansey told AAP.
“We'll definitely be needed more than ever, if and when it does happen.
“They'll obviously limit the amount of support staff they'll need, but there definitely has to be some well-being personnel within that isolated community.
“Players are used to being away for one-two weeks, but I'm not sure they understand. Being away for that long, it's definitely going to affect them.”
Dansey is one of three welfare staff at the Eels to remain diligently working with players remotely, despite being stood down due to the pandemic last week.
The uncertainty around their future has prompted some Parramatta players to pick up the tools in a bid to source other income and maintain wellbeing.
However Dansey insists being holed up in camp with teammates for an extended periods will present a serious mental hurdle.
“The amount of mental toughness to go through, even if you've been there for a month to do training ... there's a lot there to fight,” he said.
“Even just to offload and get off your chest. You've got to have someone there just to listen, someone to go, 'Okay, I've got you. Talk to me, so you don't have to take it into training and then the game, because that obviously affects the way you play.”