NRL's grim reality check about 'optimistic' July return

Andrew Reid
·4-min read
Seen here, Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith.
It's hoped the NRL can resume as soon as July 1. Pic: Getty

The NRL is desperate to get its competition back up and running as soon as possible, in order to salvage a season in danger of being completely wiped out.

ARL Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V'landys has been steadfast in his desire to save the 2020 season in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

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Having initially ploughed through while while other competitions around the world were forced to suspend their leagues, the NRL eventually bowed to advice from their pandemic experts and called a halt to their own season - after just two rounds.

However, V'landys remains convinced the league can get back up and running by the start of July, despite expert opinion to the contrary.

"We're very optimistic about starting on the 1st of July," he told Fox Sports on Monday.

"The figures are encouraging in the last few days on the infection rate. They're certainly nowhere near as much as our pandemic expert predicted.

"If that trend continues, that gives us two months to continue."

However, the NRL's pandemic expert, speaking under anonymity to Fairfax Media, said on Wednesday that it's far too early to say if a July 1 resumption is a realistic notion.

“It takes two to four weeks to see the impact of interventions in epidemics,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“We won’t know until after the first week of April — until which time we will still be seeing the impact of travel bans — how it will progress from there.

“There is likely still community transmission we have not detected because of a restrictive testing policy.

“I think we can also see from the increasingly strict measures being implemented by the government that they, too, view the situation as serious based on the data and the expert advice they are getting and are placing protection of the community as the highest priority.”

Three-game grand final series being proposed

The ARLC is also reportedly exploring a best-of-three decider at the end of the year, which would inject an estimated $28 million into the cash-strapped code for just one additional game.

It would include playing the second game of the series at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, and is based on a September 1 start date for the league's resumption after the coronavirus-enforced suspension.

On Wednesday, three-times premiership-winning coach Trent Robinson said while an extended grand final match-up would benefit the two teams involved, the NRL needs to ensure a full finals series to benefit more clubs.

"Best of three... I'd say we'll be strapped for time," Robinson told SEN Radio.

"I would be giving the opportunity, if it's a shortened competition, for the top eight and for teams to get the opportunity to play finals footy, to get finals coffers filled for more clubs.

Pictured here, Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson.
Trent Robinson wants any finals proposals to assist as many clubs as possible. Pic: Getty

"I think (the grand final series) would really benefit the AFL or the NRL and also the two teams, but we need to support the whole competition.

"I think the more finals games we play, making sure we play a top eight, would make sure we get as many teams more financial as possible by the end of the year."

The proposal was presented to ARLC chairman Peter V'landys by former New Zealand Test forward Dean Lonergan and Brisbane Bombers director Nick Livermore.

Under the proposal, the first grand final would be played on December 20 at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the second at Suncorp Stadium on Boxing Day, and the third in either Townsville or Sydney on New Years Day.

It was submitted for consideration to the NRL's new innovation committee, headed by rugby league legend Wayne Pearce.

The committee has been tasked with generating ideas to fill a 20-week competition should the NRL be cleared to return this season.

Other ideas up for consideration are a representative weekend, moving all 16 teams to a central location in a Magic Round style of competition and a wildcard weekend.

with AAP