NRL season halted as COVID-19 crisis worsens

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The NRL has doggedly attempted to keep the 2020 premiership running as per its original schedule in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. But on Monday evening, it was finally forced to yield and suspend the season, effective immediately.

The game’s administrators were still striving to work through possible contingency plans on Monday – including relocating all 16 clubs to a facility in central Queensland, and splitting the teams into a temporary two-conference system to get around Queensland’s impending border closure – but ultimately the rapid spread of the coronavirus was the decisive factor.

PLAYER SAFETY COMES FIRST

The NRL’s fateful decision came just a day after the AFL made the call to suspend its premiership until at least 31 May, while the A-League – the only other Australian sporting competition left standing – is expected to follow suit, with an FFA announcement expected on Tuesday morning after its latest round of matches concluded on Monday night.

The NRL had copped heavy criticism for not pulling the pin earlier, and the code finally heeded advice from its biosecurity and pandemic experts, who could no longer guarantee the safety of the players.

“We thank the players and fans for all their support. This decision hasn’t been taken lightly. Our experts are very concerned with the rapid rate (of COVID-19’s spread in Australia),” ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys said at a press conference.

“We were alarmed at how everything changed over the past 24 hours.”

NRL HOPEFUL OF RETURN AMID ‘CATASTROPHIC’ SHUTDOWN

Unlike the AFL, the NRL stopped short of placing a time frame on the premiership’s suspension. The hierarchy and the clubs will continue to explore options to resume the competition – which will happen as soon as it is safe to do so.

“We’ve left it open and will make further announcements in the future. All options are still on the table, but what’s paramount is the health of our players,” V’landys confirmed.

But V’landys and NRL CEO Todd Greenberg warned the game sinks further into a financial hole every week the NRL premiership is sidelined. Player payment cuts and belt-tightening measures across rugby league are inevitable.

“It’s catastrophic, I don’t think we’ve ever come across a financial crisis like it,” Chairman V’landys continued.

“You can’t understate it, it’s probably the biggest challenge the game will ever face financially. Rugby league will always survive in some way but I can’t guarantee it will in the same way. We’re ready for the worst.”

THE 2020 NRL PREMIERSHIP SO FAR

While results seem almost secondary in the current climate, it was an intriguing opening fortnight of the NRL premiership. Six teams remained unbeaten at the end of round 2: Parramatta, Newcastle, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Penrith.

The youthful Broncos – who upstaged North Queensland Cowboys as they opened their new stadium in Townsville before rolling South Sydney Rabbitohs at home – have been the most impressive performers to date. The unfancied Panthers are arguably the surprise packets of the season so far, staging comeback wins over Sydney Roosters and St George Illawarra Dragons.

Meanwhile, the two-time defending champion Roosters find themselves among six clubs yet to register a win, becoming the first reigning premiers in 11 years to lose their first two games. The early signs are ominous for the Warriors and Gold Coast Titans, who suffered heavy losses in each of their first two outings.

The Storm had joined the Roosters on the first line of premiership betting, with the Raiders only a shade behind. Incomparable Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo and Raiders second-rower Elliot Whitehead go into the hiatus atop the 2020 Dally M Medal leaderboard on four votes apiece.

WHO’S LEFT STANDING IN THE WORLD OF SPORTS?

Australia stood as a beacon on the professional sporting landscape prior to the weekend, with its three biggest domestic competitions stoically forging ahead. But in the space of little more than 24 hours, the AFL and NRL joined the eye-watering list of codes worldwide to announce cancellations and postponements.

However, a clutch of overseas football, table tennis, volleyball, ice hockey, cricket, sumo wrestling and e-Sports leagues have so far managed to avoid the COVID-19 sports purge.

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Stay tuned to Sportsbet for regular updates about how the coronavirus crisis is affecting sports around the globe.

 

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