Major change to NRL grand final after QLD Covid outbreak worsens

·Sports Editor
·4-min read
Penrith Panthers fans, pictured here at Suncorp Stadium.
Crowd capacity for the NRL grand final has been reduced to 75 per cent. Image: Getty

Crowd capacity for Sunday night's NRL grand final has been reduced to 75 per cent after new restrictions were announced in Queensland.

The grand final between Penrith and South Sydney was supposed to be played in front of a sell-out crowd of 50,000 in Brisbane on Sunday night.

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However the Queensland government announced new restrictions on Thursday after the state recorded six new cases of Covid-19.

From 4pm on Thursday, for the next two weeks, there will be new restrictions for Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Moreton Bay, Logan, Townsville and Palm Island regions.

Among the new restrictions is a 75 per cent cap on crowds at large venues.

That means some 12,000 people who had tickets to the game will now be locked out.

“It’s going to be disappointing for people but we have to take the health advice,” said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

“The health advice is to move to stage two (restrictions). Stage two says 75 per cent capacity, that’s what it will be.”

The NRL said tickets will be refunded for the final 25 per cent of fans who purchased seats in each allocation.

“We had two allocations of grand final tickets. The first was to the general public and the second was aimed at fans of both grand final teams,’’ NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said.

“The fairest way to determine who can attend the game is by prioritising the first 75 per cent to purchase tickets in each allocation. Any fan who no longer wants to attend will also be able to access a refund.

“I want to acknowledge fans who will now miss out on attending the grand final. I know you had been counting down the days to a once in a lifetime experience and this will be difficult news to take, but this decision is out of our hands.”

Four of the six cases have been linked the cluster centred on an aviation training facility in Queensland's southeast.

Ms Palaszczuk denied on Thursday she was resisting a lockdown to facilitate the NRL grand final, saying she would lock down the state if the health advice called for it.

"Let me make it very clear that the health of Queenslanders comes first and as soon as (Queensland chief health officer) Dr (Jeannette) Young says we needed to move into a lockdown we will," she said.

The NRL has confirmed that any lockdown in Brisbane would trigger the game being relocated to Townsville.

But making matters worse for the NRL is the fact that one of the new cases is a pilot who flew into Townsville.

Journalist Matt Dennien tweeted on Thursday: “NRL might be needing a plan c …” while reporter Jess Millward added: “NRL’s plan B not looking too good.”

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The next few days will be critical despite the Queensland government holding off on a lockdown.

Earlier this week Dr Young said she will wait until absolutely necessary to confirm the grand final could go ahead in Brisbane, but the NRL insisted it's business as usual.

The threat of a relocation has not entirely subsided and Dr Young said a lockdown would be considered if there was a spike in transmissions.

"If we see large numbers, if we see spread and definitely if we see unlinked cases that I can't say where they've come from," she said.

Penrith Panthers players, pictured here greeting fans at a training session at Sunshine Coast Stadium.
Penrith Panthers players greet fans at a training session at Sunshine Coast Stadium. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

It will be the first time the NRL grand final has been held in Brisbane, despite years of campaigning from Queensland rugby league officials.

A last-minute shift to Townsville would dramatically impact crowd numbers, with Townsville stadium only holding 25,000 fans - less than half of Suncorp.

Mask mandates were increased for Brisbane, Moreton and Gold Coast local government areas on Tuesday.

But so far there has been no changes to requirements for Brisbane grand final spectators who will be allowed to remove their masks while they are seated.

with AAP

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