The NRL’s remarkable success story in 2020

The NRL will play the final round of its regular season this coming weekend.

Penrith Panthers have already won the Minor Premiership, for which they will receive the JJ Giltinan Shield.

So the matches this weekend will simply determine how the first week of the play-offs will work out.

But it’s worth reflecting on what a staggeringly successful season Rugby League has enjoyed in Australia since it returned from the Covid lockdown on 28 May.

When the lockdown was introduced in March, the future looked catastrophic for the NRL and its clubs. There was no money put aside for a rainy day and the prime sources of income from TV, crowds and sponsors, looked likely to dry up, leaving Rugby League insolvent and apparently heading for liquidation.

Drastic action was required if the game was to pull back from the abyss.

Under its Chairman Peter V’landys, who was a relative newcomer on the scene, the NRL was widely criticised at the time for wanting to return to action on 28 May, just over two months after all sports had been locked down in Australia.

Some of the experts on biosecurity, as well as journalists who are inimical to Rugby League, scoffed at V’landys’ temerity in suggesting that the game should resume so early.

Some sports writers were confident that Rugby League players would be bound to breach the bubbles that the clubs were proposing to create around their players, and the competition certainly wouldn’t last until the end of the season because players would become transmitters of the Covid-19 virus.

Well, that hasn’t happened, and it now looks as though the competition is going to be completed by its October deadline.

And throughout the season, it seems that V’landys has been ahead of the game.

The NRL is now on the verge of being able to have 50 per cent capacity at its play-off matches from the start of October.

The current limit is 25 per cent of capacity with a maximum of 10,000. But that is now set to change.

Bankwest Stadium, the SCG and ANZ Stadium have been approved for 50% capacity, while the NSW Government is assessing Penrith and Newcastle’s venues to determine capacity for NRL finals matches.

It means that 40,000 spectators can watch fixtures at ANZ Stadium from October 1, including NRL finals matches and Origin II. Suncorp Stadium is permitted to host crowds of up to 25,000 for the finals and Origin III.

So just when the prospect of crowds returning in Super League has been devastatingly hit for six, in Australia we can look forward to seeing substantial attendances for the forthcoming play-off games.

In more good news for Rugby League fans in Australia, Adelaide Oval will be allowed to be half full for the State of Origin series opener on November 4, which would mean up to 26,750 spectators can attend the historic match, which will be the first time an Origin match will have been played in the state of South Australia.

ANZ Stadium will host Origin II on November 11, with the series finale a week later at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

The NRL Grand Final will be played on 25 October, with the venue yet to be decided, but it’s hard to believe that it won’t continue to be in Sydney.

Check out Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column every Monday in League Express. You can take out a subscription at