The NRL found itself at the centre of a confusing predicament on Friday after an unfortunate series of contradictory statements around the coronavirus.
League officials have been considering taking games behind closed doors and locking out crowds in response to the global pandemic.
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The governing body has set up a coronavirus sub-committee that is exploring all options and ramifications for the NRL and clubs if games are to be played in empty stadiums, or if the season is to be postponed.
Despite the growing threat that's seen other sporting leagues and competitions around the world suspended, postponed or cancelled, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg remained somewhat defiant on Friday.
The NRL boss assured fans that they would still be able to attend Friday night's clash between North Queensland and the Brisbane Broncos at the Cowboys' new stadium in Townsville.
Not even 10 minutes later, it emerged that the federal government had been advised to ban gatherings of more than 500 people.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Dr Brendan Murphy, delivered the drastic advice at a COAG meeting in Sydney on Friday afternoon.
Dr Murphy told the Prime Minister and the various state premiers that it was a necessary course of action to take in order to stop the spread of coronavirus.
It led many to question the wisdom of the NRL's announcement that fans would be allowed to attend Friday night's match in Townsville.
Critics pointed to a distinct lack of communication and another farcical situation like that seen before the cancellation of the Australian F1 Grand Prix earlier in the day.
Many urged the NRL to make a call and either postpone the match or play it behind closed doors for the safety of the public.
Just spoke to NRL chairman Peter V’landys. “We are still pushing for the game to go ahead in Townsville with a crowd,” he said. “There are no cases of the virus in the area and I don’t think it should be blanket policy when it comes to this.”@9NewsSyd @NRLonNine https://t.co/yBwK3Ur1BO— Danny Weidler (@Danny_Weidler) March 13, 2020
We're talking about people driving 4-5 hours each way with their families in the car. Fine with no crowd at game, just be fair to people.— Jarv (@JarvFromOz) March 13, 2020
Government must over rule the NRL— lono89 (@lono89) March 13, 2020
Man he’s dillusional. You can’t run a sporting event in this climate.— Franky (@frankyjosh31) March 13, 2020
So the F1 gets cancelled to protect the crowd from spreading the Coronavirus yet the NRL games etc. are still going ahead? @ScottMorrisonMP— Anthony Lee 🇦🇺🇬🇧 (@AnthonyLee59) March 13, 2020
A short time later on Friday afternoon, PM Scott Morrison addressed media to provide an update on the coronavirus situation.
During the address, the PM confirmed that by Monday, public gatherings of 500 people or more would be officially banned, meaning Friday’s fixtures were given the green light to go ahead.
League chiefs will reassess the situation on Saturday morning for five remaining games over the weekend.
NRL round one fixture chaos
The Cowboys game at their brand new stadium in Townsville is expected to attract more than 20,000 fans.
Canberra is set to play the next NRL game at GIO Stadium against the Gold Coast at 6pm and originally expected a crowd of around 15,000 - although that number has taken a hit in the past 24 hours.
However, the Raiders announced on Friday afternoon that the match would go ahead in front of fans as planned after consultation with health experts and government leaders.
Parramatta and Canterbury played the opening game of the NRL season at Bankwest Stadium on Thursday night in front of a crowd of 21,363.
Before the game, the NRL announced health and safety measures for players and staff to prevent further spread of coronavirus.
Players were advised to minimise handshakes and physical interactions with fans, while clubs were encouraged to minimise player contact with community organisations.
Restrictions were also placed on entry into dressing rooms.