APAC Sports Pictures of the Week - 2019, October 7
APAC Sports Pictures of the Week - 2019, October 7

NRL braces for grand final with no crowd

The NRL is resigned to a grand final with no crowd.

Amid the crazy ideas being offered to get the NRL season going again - and they run from relocating the entire NRL to the Cook Islands to a late bid from Hamilton Island, where high-falutin' folks like Matty Johns go to drink daiquiris - a grand final with no crowd might be the craziest idea yet to get our heads around.

But a premiership with nobody to celebrate in front of is the new reality. Anything more is a hope, at best.

It comes as the NRL gets serious about putting players into some form of a bubble, and Sydney's Olympic precinct is heavily favoured.

The best-case scenario to see out the season appears a relaxing of laws similar to round two when the competition went ahead inside empty stadiums. The lone positive is that players will live at home.

 

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The NRL is being inundated with ideas. Fans who have stumbled upon The Solution, hotels and resorts looking for cheap publicity, are all taking a stab at providing the answer.

But each solution provides a problem. And each new day brings a narrowing of options.

The two-conference system, for instance, with half the teams at the Olympic precinct and the other half on the Gold Coast, or the Tangalooma Island resort, is almost certainly doomed.

Different jurisdictions have different rules in place.

Queensland has laws in place that insist anybody crossing into Queensland, like players returning from a game, must undergo a 14-day quarantine.

That means even in a two-conference system players will almost certainly have to be in the same state. That tips the future in favour of NSW.

While country towns like Gladstone have been suggested as possible bubbles given their isolation, the proximity of the teams being in Sydney to St Vincent's Hospital, where tests for COVID-19 can be turned around in hours, instead of days like it would take from country Queensland, makes Sydney more likely.

All remain up for debate when the innovation committee meets on Thursday.

Much remains uncertain.

There might come a resolution ready to present to the Australia Rugby League ­Commission for consideration or there might be a need for one more meeting before a resolution is ready.

Certainly plenty of work has already been done.

The crowdless grand final is one of a number of realities the NRL's new innovation committee will face.

Led by Wayne Pearce, the committee is also expected to strongly consider moving players into quarantine early next month ahead of a May 28 resumption.

The players will enter the quarantine in stages so as not to overwhelm the testing process. Four hundred players over a weekend is too many.

The staged arrivals is the lone reason an Origin series to kick off the new-look season is being considered.

Origin would allow football to be played while teams gradually enter quarantine, ready to play by the time the series is over. There is not another good reason linked to it, but it might be enough.

 

The NRL grand final may not have a crowd in 2019. Picture: Brett Costello
The NRL grand final may not have a crowd in 2019. Picture: Brett Costello

 

Pearce, NRL head of football Graham Annesley and International Rugby League deputy chairman Troy Grant have been investigating bio­security and the business plan around restarting the ­competition.

Grant, along with ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys, has also been speaking to the government about restarting the season.

Raiders chief executive Don Furner is looking at the logistics of available venues and how to move the players in and out. Clint Newton is ­liaising with players.

NRL chief operating officer Andrew Abdo is looking at the commercial side, primarily the structure of the draw. One complete round and a conference system are some of the alternatives.

Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson is liaising with coaches about lead-in times and trials. Some clubs, since gone quiet, initially suggested they needed as many as six weeks to get players ready.

 

 

 

 

This is a good example of when coaches should be ignored. The priority is to get the competition operating as quickly as possible.

The one challenge yet to be dealt with is how the players cope with isolation and, ­primarily, for how long.

While boredom is making us all stupid at the moment it will be a fresh burden imposed on the players if they are placed in the bubble.

It is not a burden they should be asked to carry for too long.

Given the downward trend of new infections it's hoped that enough restrictions will be lifted to allow the players to return home and then carry on the season under the same lim­itations as there were for round two.

The NRL knows it will bring fresh argument but every step forward has been a battle so far.

Full rounds, with no crowds, and a season in which every team plays each other once is the preferred option.

Origin is fitted in, a full eight-team finals series goes ahead, and the grand final is played with no crowd.

 

Originally published as NRL braces for grand final with no crowd


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