RLPA reluctant to back NRL bubble return

·3-min read

CEO Clint Newton says the Rugby League Players Association would be reluctant to support a return to league-wide biosecurity bubbles as the NRL determines how best to handle growing COVID-19 case numbers.

This month alone, Jake Trbojevic, Cameron Munster, Murray Taulagi, Reece Walsh, Toby Rudolf and Nicho Hynes have been among key players to come down with the virus.

Bubbles were scrapped this year, but given only six competition points separate sides placed fifth and eleventh, clubs hoping to play finals football are encouraging the NRL to re-implement them, lest an outbreak thwart their chances of finishing in the top eight.

"We've got to protect the integrity of the game," said Jason Demetriou, coach of seventh-placed South Sydney.

"If it's still going the way it is, then obviously it's something that the game and us as clubs are going to have to look at."

But Newton said by testing daily and educating their players on COVID-19 safety measures, clubs had proven they could avoid outbreaks without returning to bubbles.

"We are still certainly of the belief that the common sense approach to recommendations can remain. It's worked really well," Newton told AAP.

"Even without strong mandates, we haven't seen mass outbreaks, which just goes to show how the players have bought in.

"Daily testing is proving to be an incredibly important net that is catching players and staff before they transmit it to their team en masse.

"As we've seen, not a single game has been postponed."

Newton said the allure of playing finals football would encourage players to take personal responsibility for staying COVID-safe.

"Around finals time, you'll find players are naturally more cautious," Newton said.

"There would be no greater punishment for both individual and team than a player getting COVID and missing a finals game or a grand final.

"The mindset changes around that time of year and players make all types of sacrifices. This would be no different."

Nevertheless, Newton said if the NRL was bullish on returning to bubbles, the RLPA would be open to holding discussions.

"They would need to ensure we were included in the process before any decisions were made," he said.

"It would also would have to be backed up by some by very strong evidence and data, linked to the direct risk of COVID exposure."

On Friday, Demetriou said the Rabbitohs would consider imposing a bubble on their players before the end of the regular season even if the NRL did not re-introduce league-wide bubbles.

"It's something that we're definitely looking at," he said.

Newton said the RLPA would consult with players at any club with similar plans.

"We're in constant contact with our leading players at every club, that's our leadership structure," he said.

"We're more than willing to play a supporting role and provide our views."

If a decision was made to return to league-wide bubbles, the NRL could struggle to garner the support of players from teams no longer in finals contention.

"I don't want to be in a bubble for the rest of the year," Wests Tigers forward Joe Ofahengaue told reporters.

"We'll have some common sense around (staying COVID-safe) but also whoever makes the call around the COVID bubbles should have some common sense too.

"COVID-19 is everywhere. You can't escape it. Let's just hope we don't get to that point (of bubbles) because everyone loves their freedom."

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