NRL urges govt help to avoid 'catastrophe'

Pamela Whaley and Scott Bailey
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NRL CORONAVIRUS PRESSER

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg (L) and ARLC chairman Peter V'landys have announced round two will proceed

The NRL will push for special consideration from the Australian government to test players for coronavirus while the game faces a "catastrophic" demise if it's forced to suspend the competition.

On Sunday the NRL confirmed it would forge ahead with the competition in round two in the interest of keeping the game alive financially despite the growing pandemic which has forced the shut down of other major sports.

Without insurance or assets to produce income outside of the games themselves, ARLC chairman Peter V'landys said the NRL would not take long to collapse if the season was suspended without financial assistance from the government.

The dire state of the NRL's financial stability has prompted rugby league great Phil Gould to call for a change in power at the top - a timely comment given chief executive Todd Greenberg's future as boss is unclear beyond this year.

"NRL in a very difficult position, so last thing we need is people adding to their problems. We all need to stick. However, this situation highlights just how wasteful & poorly run NRL has been. Overpopulated Head Office has squandered 100's of millions of dollars. Time for change,'" Gould Tweeted on Sunday.

Already the NRL has dipped into its 'distress fund' to the tune of $6.8 million, allocating $425,000 to each of the 16 clubs to assist with the financial pressure of closing games to fans from round two.

However, this is a meagre sum compared to the losses clubs are faced with from next weekend.

There were also suggestions the NRL could lower the competition's salary cap, effectively cutting the wage of players as part of the collective bargaining agreement with the Rugby League Players Association.

However, the RLPA has confirmed with AAP that the extraordinary measure would only be eligible to come into effect in 2021, and only after other costs were cut such as marketing payments and injury hardship funds.

The NRL will meet with Brendan Murphy, chief medical officer of NSW, on Tuesday, to ask for special consideration and availability of testing for players to keep the season alive.

They will also rely on a report from newly appointed biosecurity and pandemic specialists to decide how to navigate the complex situation of playing games in round two and beyond.

The NRL admitted all options are on the table, including isolating players and staff and suspending the season entirely.

"If it's a total closure, we haven't got long at all," V'landys said.

"If it's one where we can continue to play the game with no spectators, that gives us a much greater flexibility to survive.

"It really depends on what we're faced with. If one player or ball boy catches the disease and we have to suspend the season, that's another scenario.

"I spent hours yesterday looking at all our accounts and all I could see was the word 'catastrophe' if this continues."

While refusing to reveal specific contract details of its $2 billion deal with broadcasters, V'landys said Fox Sports and Channel Nine have not put pressure on the NRL to continue playing.

However, he admitted the broadcasters will not need to pay if games are cancelled.

It comes as sideline official Tim Roby became the latest person in the game to be tested for coronavirus after presenting with flu-like symptoms on Sunday, with results expected on Monday.

It's understood he has not been around the referees group since Friday.

Angus Crichton and Bronson Xerri are the only two NRL players to have been tested for coronavirus; both were negative.

"I can't stress enough our game has never faced a challenge like this," V'landys said.

"The longer it takes, the more pressure on our financial viability.

"It could have catastrophic effects on us going forward.

"Our money will only last so long and once its extinguished we are in big trouble."

Elite players Cameron Smith and Michael Morgan have expressed their preference to suspend the season, and Greenberg confirmed no player would be forced to play if they would prefer to isolate.