While the NRL will rely on government advice to determine their return date, discussions now revolve around a June best-case scenario as the nation heads into lockdown protocols to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
There are many options available to the game, with a conference system that splits the competition in half now appearing the most likely. The NRL is also giving consideration to moving teams to remote towns of NSW and Queensland.
Unlike the AFL, which has suspended the season until May 31, the NRL initially refused to put a time frame on their competition when they shut it down on Monday night.
Given that they had only just come to the decision to postpone the competition an hour or so before CEO Todd Greenberg and ARLC chairman Peter V’landys fronted the cameras, they refrained from providing false hope.
But overnight they began making plans around a best-case scenario – and that appears to be the start of June. That could push the State of Origin series to the end of the year.
The decision to call things off came less than three hours after Greenberg stood in front of his staff and defiantly declared the game would go on.
Even after telling them to pack their bags and head out the doors on leave until May 1, the NRL was forging ahead without them.
Then the phone call that changed it all. The advice from the biosecurity expert horrified those on the other end of the line, with a warning that Australia was tracking to be as bad, if not worse, than Italy.
Now, the players – and many more involved in the game – face the reality of severe pay reductions. At least for those who still have a job.
Many clubs have had to lay off their staff in anticipation for a year without rugby league, with all 16 clubs now fighting for its survival.
However on Tuesday the clubs had been assured by the governing body that they will receive their monthly grant next week, which entitles each club to $1.25 million.
“I can’t see every club surviving,” Phil Gould told Nine’s 100% Footy on Monday night.
“If this competition doesn’t get back on the field this year, and there is no broadcast income coming into the game, I don’t know how clubs are going to survive.
“Unless the criteria is so small next year to come into the competition, that they somehow find themselves in it.
“It depends what the funding arrangements are going forward. What the competition and salary cap looks like going forward.”
The Rugby League Players’ Association is now working through the logistics of the player reduction scheme that will be introduced.
The percentage of the pay cut will hinge largely on the broadcasters, who are in the midst of delicate discussions with the NRL about future payments for a product that is no longer on offer.
Foxtel and Nine are due to pay their quarterly broadcast fee of $90 million (combined) on April 1. However given they pay in advance, the NRL isn’t sure it will receive any of that money.
The NRL will argue that if the game goes down due to a lack of financial support, it is detrimental to the future of the broadcasters.
Some believe the NRL could find themselves in a situation where they agree to extend their broadcast arrangements with Fox and Nine for far less than they were once hoping to gain in the next cycle, on the proviso they are looked after during the financial crisis the game now faces.
As they’ve repeated all along, this situation is “fluid”. All options “are on the table”. And the outcome could be “catastrophic”.
Michael Chammas is a sports reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald