NRL to return in late May, but way through coronavirus remains unclear

NRL logo (Twitter)
NRL logo (Twitter)

Australia's National Rugby League (NRL) is set to return on 28 May, but exactly how the competition will go ahead under coronavirus restrictions remains unclear, officials said on Thursday. 

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A return of the NRL was announced in Sydney on Thursday afternoon, but the exact structure and detail of how the game will proceed during the pandemic were still being worked out, Australian Rugby League Commissioner Wayne Pearce said. 

"The details of the competition structure, we haven't got to that as yet because the landscape is changing very, very quickly," Pearce told media.

The season was suspended on March 24 after just two rounds amid government shutdowns of all non-essential gatherings in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The cash-strapped league, considered part of Australia's social fabric, tried to continue its season without fans present. 

But it suspended the competition after Queensland - a major centre for the NRL along with New South Wales - joined other states and New Zealand in closing its borders.

Scenarios for resuming the competition as reported in local media include having all 16 teams, including the New Zealand Warriors, base themselves and play their games in Sydney under strict isolation restrictions.

But Pearce said a dramatic downturn in the rate of new coronavirus infections in Australia over the past two weeks had raised hopes for a more open competition.

"Only a few days ago it was looking like we were having to go into an isolation bubble type scenario," Pearce said.

"The rate of increase of infections has come right down."

During the meeting the league's main broadcast partner, Nine, unleashed a fiery statement attacking the sport’s officials over a lack of consultation.

"This health crisis in our community has highlighted the mismanagement of the code over many years," a spokesman for the company said in a statement.

Pearce said the network was a key partner and hoped to work together when the game returned.

"We intend to fulfil our contractual obligations and hopefully we can maintain a working relationship," he said.

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