As the NRL moves closer to a restart in New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia still have border restrictions in place, while Victoria remains in a state of emergency until May 11 at the earliest, meaning players remain unable to train in groups.
While there was hope within AFL headquarters late on Monday that South Australia’s borders would soon open, the same confidence could not be found with Western Australia’s situation.
WA health minister Roger Cooks said on Monday the state “will try to open businesses within the economy before we open any borders”.
Under a hub model considered for the Eagles and the Dockers, the teams would play as many away games as possible in Victoria, with the hope that WA’s restrictions would be eased later in the year and they could therefore finish with a bank of home games.
Larger-scale hubs – which have been a major talking point for several weeks – remain extremely unlikely, but the AFL remains committed to having them as a fall-back option, if a secondary wave of COVID-19 spreads.
If the Andrews government in Victoria ends the state of emergency this weekend, it will allow the state to move to “Stage B” of the protocols outlined by the country’s chief health officers last week.
“I think it will be, initially, players getting back to training in smaller groups – of up to 10 – and then reconnecting as that process develops based on a protocol that the AFL may put together,” Federal Sports Minister Richard Colbeck told Sportsday. “And then flying to a venue for a game and flying straight back again. That’s the type of model the NRL is using and I think that is a manageable protocol.
“Hopefully by the time we get to the weekend we’re in a situation where we’re given a date as to when we can go to level B and we can recommence a range of activities.”
The AFL on Monday was adamant that it hadn’t considered the timing of finals and the grand final, and reiterated it would work with other sports to ensure there were no significant clashes.
If the season was to culminate in late October, it could clash with the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley on October 24 or potentially a week later for Derby Day at Flemington.
Colbeck also said the Federal Government was working with authorities to consider how international players – such as Essendon’s Conor McKenna – could return from overseas.
“That will all be part of the biosecurity protocol that the AFL puts to us as a part of a return-to-play process,” he said.
“Clearly there will have to be a quarantining of anyone who comes into the country and we’re even seeing that with the rugby league players coming from New Zealand.”
Sam McClure is a sport reporter for The Age and winner of ‘best news reporter’ at the AFL Media Association awards.