If successful, if it can show that it can lock down 40 players and staff at a venue such as Townsville’s brand new stadium, the NRL will then look at mobilising all 16 teams.
This is at the forefront of the committee’s contingency plans should the NRL be allowed to start again. The questions are whether it can — and whether it should.
These are difficult times as we struggle without the essentials such as toilet paper, hand sanitiser, after-work schooners and, of course, footy.
Disappointingly, the narrative chosen by some has become bitter and accusatory when the reality is the situation everyone faces couldn’t be more complex.
If the NRL wants to broadcast its very own version of The Truman Show, and the players want it, and the government will allow it, and the pandemic and biosecurity experts say it’s safe and the risk of spreading the virus is negligible, then there is no reason why it shouldn’t happen.
Nevertheless, the ARL Commission needs to remember why it shut down the competition in the first place: because its pandemic expert — one of the world’s leading authorities on biosecurity and infectious diseases — considered it too dangerous to continue. In summary, she thought a player could die, such was the risk.
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys was shocked at what she had to report and took it to the commission, which promptly stopped play.
A week later, he was telling Fox Sports that “none of what she said came true” and was agitating for a return because of an apparent flattening of the curve.
The expert responded in an email to this column that it was too early to make that call.
As one NRL staffer joked this week: “Only in rugby league could there be a war of words between the game’s chairman and its own pandemic expert”.
It is unclear if the NRL will continue using the same expert as V’landys explores every option to get back on the field. It would be disappointing if other expert opinions were sought just to suit an outcome — something that was joked about at the start of the crisis.
The innovation committee is drawing up contingency plans — like kicking off the season with State of Origin — so long as it’s allowed under law and on expert advice.
The most serious plan involves three or four hubs in regional areas of NSW hosting clusters of teams, all in lock-down.
What that means for teams in Queensland, which has shut its border, and also the Warriors locked down in New Zealand, remains to be seen.
Sydney has already been declared a no-go zone because of the rate of infection in the city.
Then there’s the sell. First, to the players: Are they going to accept living away from young families, locked down in a handful of places, for 20 weeks?
The response from many already is they want to play because they need the money. Some are torn, though, about the reality of what life on the road for four or five months might look like.
Then there’s the fans, whose view probably swings on their very personal circumstances. If you’re currently working, what right do you have to say footballers shouldn’t work and earn an income, too?
What about the player on $100,000 who doesn’t just support his young family but his extended one, too?
If you’re not working, however, you might ask why footballers should be allowed to work while you cannot.
Then there’s the wider community, who might wonder if the NRL is putting itself ahead of the greater good; more concerned about providing broadcast content than flattening the godforsaken curve.
All we can do in these crazy, crazy times is put our faith in government officials and expert advice and let them decide. That’s what they’re elected and paid to do.
I’m barely smart enough to work out what the hell is happening on Tiger King.
With code suspended, blame game continues
There was one line on the telephone hook-up between the NRL and 30 or so players that really stood out.
“We’ve been eating champagne and caviar for years,” V’landys said of the game’s spiralling costs. “But that’s nobody’s fault.”
The players’ response: “Really? Um, hello? Maybe the NRL?”
The truth is rugby league’s dire financial predicament rests at the feet of almost every stakeholder, from an administration that hasn’t been able to squirrel away enough from billions of dollars from its broadcasters; to officials that have kow-towed to powerful club bosses in order to survive; to clubs that recklessly hire then sack coaches, wasting money on huge payouts; to player managers who whipped up a false economy that sees some players on more than a $1 million when they should be on a fraction of that.
Meanwhile, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg is copping the equivalent of a public flogging.
Much of the criticism is unfair but he can’t escape the fact he’s been chief executive for four years while the distrust between head office, some clubs and some players has seriously eroded.
Announcing a 25 per cent pay cut for NRL execs while the players were expected to take a hit of 46 per cent, then back-flipping and saying he’d take the same cut when the players and public questioned it, was very reactive.
When the dust settles on the coronavirus madness, attention will turn to Greenberg’s position and whether he deserves to stay.
Burgess-Richo rift is no secret
The smoke is still coming off the story broken by the Herald last week about Shane Richardson leaving Souths early.
It’s been claimed Richardson left because of a fallout with retired captain Sam Burgess. That’s hard to believe but it’s no secret the pair no longer get on.
At the heart of it is Richardson’s decision to move on Burgess’ brother, George. But the division started last September when Burgess lined up the NRL judiciary as a “kangaroo court” when he was suspended for hair pulling.
Richardson phoned judiciary chairman — and Supreme Court judge — Geoff Bellew to apologise to take the sting out of any thought of Bellew suing. He also talked Greenberg out of slugging Burgess with a significant fine, which ended up being $10,000 suspended.
Burgess still felt aggrieved because Richardson didn’t back him publicly.
Warners home in on full fitness
The greatest gym this side of Coogee Bay Road arrived at the home of Australian cricketer David Warner and his wife Candice this week.
“We pre-empted what was going to happen in some ways and ordered early,” Warner said. “I still need to train and be fit because if we get the go-ahead to go to India in three months’ time, I need to be ready to go.”
The Warners’ gym has all the lactic acid-inducing essentials, including an Assault AirBike, SkiErg, rowing machine, bench, squat rack, kettlebells …
“The Assault Bike and SkiErg is basically for Candice,” Warner laughed. “That stuff is too tough for me!”
“I feel safer at the races than at the supermarket.” — Leading trainer Chris Waller. Who needs dunny paper in the bathroom when you have Verry Elleegant and Nature Strip in the stable?
While rugby league rips into itself in the wake of COVID-19, seriously injured former Roosters prop Mose Masoe has been kicked out of the spinal ward in the north of England — but handled the setback with grace and dignity.
Catch Four Corners earlier this week? See the bit where expert after expert could not believe sport was still being played in front of crowds? Don’t blame the sports but the authorities who didn’t shut it down soon enough.
It’s a big weekend for …
thoroughbred racing with the first day of The Championships at Royal Randwick in front of a bumper crowd of zero people.
It’s an even bigger weekend for …
the world. Still.
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.