The NRL's vow to keep its season going under the threat of the coronavirus crisis continues to polarise the Australian community.
Following Sunday's decision from the AFL to suspend its season until at least May 31, pressure has only ramped up on the NRL to do likewise.
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However, rugby league has found an unlikely ally in one of the leading figures from its rival code, with Collingwood president Eddie McGuire wishing the game well as it pushes on with season 2020.
“It’s a different competition,” McGuire said.
“They only play in... three states but with one team in Melbourne, whereas the AFL, once the borders closed in South Australia and Western Australia, well it became self-evident that we couldn’t go on with it.
“The NRL, good luck to them for having the best go they possibly can.
McGuire - who was part of an emergency committee established to deal with the AFL's response to the coronavirus crisis, told Channel Nine's Today Show that his was “absolutely heartbreaking” to have to suspend the season.
However, the Collingwood president refused to stick the boot into rugby league for forging ahead with its competition.
"I don’t think it’s time to be nitpicking on anyone else. They’ve been making the decisions with the information they have in front of them,” McGuire added.
McGuire's message comes in stark contrast to the avalanche of criticism the NRL has been copping for not suspending its own season.
Leading Aussie cricket writer Peter Lalor was particularly critical and he wasn’t alone.
Insane if true. Bordering on disgraceful. https://t.co/yokFzWNdou— Peter Lalor (@plalor) March 22, 2020
@NRL @Todd_Greenberg What a disgrace. In a time of need where peoples life's are at stake,you our only intrested in your pocket $. You dont care about people's health as long as your pockets are filled with $'s your job is hanging by a thread. #Disgrace— Lee leckey (@LLeckey) March 22, 2020
I’m a diehard league fan. However, the NRL is an absolute disgrace. Govt needs to shut it down immediately. V’Landys arrogance is astounding— Nez (@fraggle73) March 22, 2020
Absolute disgrace, suspend your season as have every other major sporting competition— hardsell (@hardsell) March 22, 2020
“Insane if true. Bordering on disgraceful,” he wrote of the NRL’s plans to play on.
“No words. No f***ing words. Delinquent behaviour.”
Comedian Dave Hughes and Aussie Olympic basketballer Mark Worthington were also shocked.
Worthington described the NRL’s stance as ‘short-sighted, selfish and arrogant’, while Hughes couldn’t fathom how rugby league can continue to operate under the Prime Minister’s new travel restrictions.
Incredibly short-sighted.— Mark Worthington (@Wortho33) March 22, 2020
Why is the NRL different to the rest of the world.
“Players health is paramount” I call BS. https://t.co/OFTcfBCQD9
So the same @ScottMorrisonMP led team who just yelled at people for going to Bondi Beach,as they are endangering us all by not social distancing,are still happy for @NRL guys to fly around the nation wrestling each other while they possibly catch and spread Coronavirus? https://t.co/0EEn5GHd02— Dave Hughes (@DHughesy) March 22, 2020
Armed with the advice of pandemic and biosecurity experts, NRL bosses say they’re confident new recommendations against non-essential travel wouldn't affect them due to their use of chartered planes.
Crucially, the NRL also believes it is in a different position to chief rivals the AFL, in that most of its teams are based in NSW and Queensland, rather than in other states which have imposed border restrictions.
"Our circumstances are a little different to the AFL, although in saying that we are going to take advice today from both federal and state government, and obviously our health experts," NRL CEO Todd Greenberg told Triple M.
"And if we can continue to play which is what our desire has been all along, then we will continue to do so."
‘There's a lot of unknowns’
NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed her government will not stand in the way of the NRL's push to continue the competition based on current medical advice.
However, that could change in the coming days if increased restrictions due to the mounting virus crisis force a suspension.
If that happened, Greenberg believed they could still complete the season even if they had to play through to the end of the year.
"We're very confident we could get the games on again, but there's a lot of unknowns on when that would come about," Greenberg said.
"We've been confident all the way through that we can get through this difficult period and that means playing the games.
"If that means we have to go well into November and December, then so be it."
Greenberg said the NRL has previously been encouraged by governments to keep playing to maintain a sense of normality for the Australian public but he recognised it could come in for mounting criticism at a time when the community faces increased restrictions and hardship.
"In times of great difficulty, particularly for communities, one of the last pieces that they can hold onto is live sport and having some interaction over the weekend, and there's not much left, to be frank, in this point of time," he said.
"So if we can keep our game alive then I think that has a variety of positives in it. But we are obviously realists, we know we're going to get touched up by some parts of the community."