NRL grounds in News South Wales and Queensland are expected to be fully open by the middle of this month, with no limit on attendances.
It’s a sign of the progress that has been made Down Under in dealing with the pandemic, although the competition’s chief executive Andrew Abdo insists there will be no dropping of the guard.
As the countdown continues to Thursday’s season-opener between reigning champions Melbourne Storm and South Sydney, which marks the former’s return to Victoria after spending almost four months out of the state last season, Abdo said: “We’re going to be vigilant and we’re planning for the worst. We’ll be ready for any scenario.
“We’re not taking this for granted, we’re going to monitor the situation. We saw in the Australian Open (in Melbourne) how quickly things can change, so if there’s an outbreak, we’ll be ready to kick in with our protocols.”
The last time grounds were able to sell out was in the opening round from March 12-15 last year.
But for the following round, fans were locked out for the first time in Australian Rugby League history.
The NRL was then suspended, resuming on May 28, with limited crowds allowed back from round five in New South Wales and round six in Queensland.
At the moment, Melbourne can go up to half of AAMI Park’s 29,500 capacity, while travel restrictions mean New Zealand Warriors are to remain based in New South Wales until at least June 21 (the first possible return to Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland would be the round 16 meeting with St George Illawarra on Friday, July 2).
Meanwhile, Australian Rugby League Commission chief Peter V’landys insists the NRL won’t hesitate to reverse the controversial rule changes designed to further increase the speed of the game, if the NRL deems it necessary.
His message comes as a host of club captains warned the tempo was nearing breaking point, even without the changes, which include six more tackles for offside infringements and a reduction of scrums.
V’landys, the driving force behind the modifications, claims players will have no issues if they play within the rules.
But he confirmed the NRL would back down in mid-season if their data suggested they had gone too far.
“We’ll certainly review them,” he said.
“We’re never frightened to make changes if necessary. We’ve promised we’d sit down after round three or four and have a look at the stats, but if you don’t breach the rules, you don’t have anything to worry about.
“That’s the thing everyone has missed, in my view. Everyone thinks there will be six-agains by the mountain-load, but there won’t be if they abide by the rules.
“If it’s a 110km per hour speed limit, you don’t go 130, otherwise you’ll get a ticket, and you’ll soon learn. If you don’t want to be tackling a set of 12 or 18, don’t breach the rules.”
Rugby League Players Association chief executive Clint Newton has raised the players’ concerns with the NRL, and the governing body will continue to consult the union in the coming months.
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