The NRL had pencilled in another Project Apollo meeting for Friday, which has now been postponed, in the hope broadcast negotiations would progress to the point that it would be able to map out the structure of the 2020 season.
However, plans around a restart date and the machinations of how the season would work appear at the moment to be moot.
Nine, the publisher of this masthead, hasn’t ruled out a May 28 restart but is determined to finalise arrangements around a potential new three-year broadcast extension before it concerns itself with the details of this year.
Pearce’s comments on Wednesday afternoon, declaring the game would “definitely” return on May 28, surprised Nine powerbrokers, who were of the opinion the negotiations had not progressed to the point of determining a set date.
Pearce said on Wednesday: “We clarified that May 28 is a definite and also confirmed that May 4 is the resumption date for training. Everyone is supportive of what we’re doing. Everyone is unified into getting back on the field.”
Everyone, that is, except the free-to-air broadcaster and key people in government. The NRL still doesn’t know whether teams from outside NSW will be able to stay at home to train, or whether the Warriors can even start training at all.
“I’m saying to NRL, send the detailed plan, send all of your health information, send how it’s all going to work,” Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Thursday.
“Put it in a detailed plan and I’m more than happy to forward it to [Queensland chief health officer] Dr [Jeannette] Young. Dr Young has said today she’s more than happy to consider it.
“I think they’ve been dealing with the NSW government and I think they need to submit it to all other governments that have NRL teams.”
Pearce’s comments outside of Rugby League Central were made at around the same time interim NRL CEO Andrew Abdo and chief operating officer Nick Weeks dialled in 16 club chief executives to tell them nothing had been locked in.
Nine minutes into the call an NRL.com push notification was sent out to almost half a million app subscribers, including a few of the digitally minded CEO’s on the phone hook-up, declaring the season was “definitely” back on May 28.
By the time the CEOs had finished being told that there were few, if any, certain answers to their questions, most of their own media departments, taking their lead from Pearce’s comments, had put up a series of social media posts with the opposite messaging, declaring the season was back.
Rugby League Players Association boss Clint Newton, who is on the innovation committee with Pearce, seemed perplexed by his comments.
“I certainly think we’ve got a level of responsibility to anyone that’s associated, in particular with that Project Apollo group, that when we come out of those meetings that we’re saying is a true reflection of where we landed,” Newton said on Thursday.
Only a few hours prior to Pearce’s comments, ARLC chairman Peter V’landys made the trip to Nine’s Willoughby headquarters to meet with boss Hugh Marks, who later in the day held a separate meeting with Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany.
But Pearce’s summation of the day’s decisions didn’t match Marks’ interpretation of negotiations that had taken place.
That does not mean V’landys, Delany and Marks will fail to reach a consensus on the terms of a new TV deal and the resumption of the competition. May 28 is still possible, if unlikely.
Michael Chammas is a sports reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald