NRL's road map to return nears completion

Scott Bailey
The NRL is looking forward to its first action since the Titans hosted the Eels on March 22

The NRL's road map to a full-blown return should be complete by the end of this week with a draw, television deal and referee mediation expected to be wrapped-up in the next few days.

Last Monday marked eight weeks since former chief executive Todd Greenberg put the brakes on the competition, stopping the last of Australia's live team sport indefinitely.

In the time since, Greenberg has been cut from the game, rules have changed, a new deal has been struck with players, and clubs have faced financial peril.

But by the end of the week, most of the dramas should be complete.

The draw is expected to be finalised on Thursday, with the next two rounds already announced and the final 16 to be revealed.

Of most interest will be which five teams each club face twice, and whether the NRL can create an equitable 20-round schedule.

Venues for games are likely only to be announced for upcoming weeks, to allow for changes in coronavirus restrictions across Australia and New Zealand.

In the initial stage, it is expected matches will be scheduled for Townsville, Brisbane, the NSW Central Coast, Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta, Campbelltown and Melbourne.

Talks will continue between the unhappy referees and league on Tuesday.

While the parties remain at loggerheads over the decision to remove the pocket referee, both insist the stand-off can be sorted by the May 28 resumption.

In the match officials' enterprise agreement, seen by AAP on Sunday, there is no reference to the need for two referees.

There is however a requirement for the NRL to consult match officials before, or as soon as possible after, making major changes.

The Professional Rugby League Match Officials (PRLMO) insist they were not properly consulted before the decision was made.

Beyond that, the NRL are hopeful the long sought-after television deal will also be complete.

It is expected Foxtel will extend their partnership with the NRL, on a slightly reduced rate from the current model.

Nine will also have a reduced rate, but at this stage it appears unlikely they will be locked in to as long a deal.

With that complete, the game will have the kind of stability it has yearned for since March 23.

And come next Thursday, rugby league will finally return to the field, with Brisbane's clash with Parramatta coming some 66 days after the game was initially halted.