Australia reacts to NRL ‘trainwreck’
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and ARL Commission Chairman Peter V'landys spoke to the media on Sunday morning, confirming the season will continue from next weekend with no spectators permitted to attend matches.
However, Greenberg and V'landys stressed the situation is "fluid" and decisions may change regarding the future of the season.
NRL ONLY DELAYING THE INEVITABLE
Speaking on Channel 9's Sports Sunday, former Wallaby turned journalist Peter FitzSimons claimed cancellation of NRL fixtures is a "certainty" when considering the virus' exponential growth.
"Read my lips - it's not a possibility, it is a certainty," FitzSimons said.
"The way it's working around the world is the number of people affected is doubling every five or six days. That's where we're heading.
"They (the NRL) are working their patch, and good luck to them. But when he (V'landys) says, 'We're minimising our risk', that is simply not true. Minimising the risk is stopping the game. That is just the simple reality.
"When they put their hand up for money from the government, they're working their patch. Good luck to them.
"They're a business. What's going to be crushed early is small business in this country."
FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS LOOM LARGE
One of the biggest talking points from Sunday's press conference was the commercial implication postponing the 2020 NRL premiership would have on the sport.
V'landys said the financial impact of the pandemic would be "catastrophic" if the season is suspended, but didn't put a specific number on it. The NRL's main income is its $2 billion broadcast deal.
ABC sports broadcaster Julian Abbott tweeted: "The NRL is obviously on life support now and that's why they are playing round two even without crowds … Their books are a catastrophe."
ABC journalist Sam Wilkinson tweeted: "Many NRL clubs also rely heavily on revenue from their Leagues Clubs (pokies), which would take a massive hit if forced to close in the coming weeks/months".
This is an extraordinary time for the NRL. The game rolls on into round 2 - with no crowds. V’Landys not holding back on the dire financial situation - will lean on the Government. NZ Warriors relocating to Kingscliff this week. Suspension of season not off the table.— Jessica Halloran (@JessiHalloran) March 14, 2020
'TRAINWRECK': LEAGUE UNDER FIRE FOR FOCUS ON CASH
Many bluntly criticised the NRL's decision to plough ahead, accusing the sport of ignoring the safety of its players and staff.
Former Mumbrella Editor Paul Wallbank said on Twitter: "V'landys' faux concern for players and staff was just a smokescreen for the NRL wanting $$$$$. He said as much a number of times. It was a shocker of a performance.
"The NRL can get to the back of the queue behind the millions of workers and small business owners who, right now, might be about to be plunged into dire poverty.
"Listening to the NRL press conference. If you're a connoisseur of trainwrecks, this one is a doozy."
NRL: "Rugby brings people together"— Jason Murray (@JM77) March 14, 2020
You're meant to be keeping them apart!
Listening to the Health Minister and Chief Medical Officer this morning, I thought, ‘no one could deliver more shambolic messaging than this.’— Titus O'Reily (@TitusOReily) March 14, 2020
Then I watched the NRL’s media conference.
Many also questioned V'landys' assertion the government "has to assist us in this crisis because it's not of our own doing".
Other major sporting codes have been forced to postpone their seasons due to the coronavirus and will also suffer financially. But V'landys argued "an Australia without rugby league is not Australia".
Sports broadcaster Christ Mitchell tweeted: "The NRL makes millions and yet they say they may have to go cap in hand to the government. Maybe they do and they should but they should at least recognise their place in the queue. It's a long way back."
The @NRL appears to arguing that because it sees itself as a vehicle to help social cohesion it deserves a payout in these times. They talk of "offering an escape" & "lifting the spirits of the people This will divide opinion. #coronavirus— Chris Mitchell (@chrismbbcsport) March 14, 2020
Listening to the NRL press conference. If you're a connoisseur of trainwrecks, this one is a doozy.— Paul Wallbank (@paulwallbank) March 14, 2020
"Australians have been watching Rugby League for hundreds of years.."
The NRL chief saying “Australia is not Australia without the NRL” .. yes, yes it is mate.. it’s only sport.. everyone is making sacrifices.. #COVID19Aus— Natalie Forrest (@nat_forrest) March 15, 2020
SEASON MAY STILL BE SUSPENDED
V'landys said the option of suspending the season remains on the table should the circumstances call for it.
"In the interim we will continue round two. At this stage we will play round two and assess the situation," V'landys said.
"This can change by the hour. All decisions we will make will have the safety and health of our players as paramount.
"We are going to review all options including isolating players or suspending the season. We've commissioned a pandemic expert and we are going to act on their advice.
"The paramount consideration is the players' safety."
The Warriors confirmed on Sunday they will remain in Australia rather than return home to New Zealand.
The NRL team's players and staff were scheduled to arrive home on Sunday afternoon after starting their season with a loss to Newcastle on Saturday, but are now staying put Down Under.
Warriors players Peta Hiku and Patrick Herbert have returned home to New Zealand while the rest of the NRL team will be based in Kingscliff, northern NSW. The Warriors are at this stage expected to play Canberra on the Gold Coast next week as the NRL presses on with the competition despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Warriors players have been told they will remain in Australia until Saturday's game, with the NRL approaching the season on a week-to-week basis. The option of the Warriors leaving the competition was a serious contemplation on Saturday night after the New Zealand government implemented a 14-day isolation policy for overseas travellers.
That rule in effect means no NRL matches can be played in New Zealand until the policy is lifted.
However, Hiku and Herbert both flew home on Sunday morning, just hours before the isolation policy comes into effect at midnight (NZDT).
Hiku's wife is heavily pregnant and expecting a child as soon as this week, while Herbert has a young baby.
It is unclear when and if they will return to Australia.
The decision comes after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced every person who enters the country will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.