After 30 years in print journalism, the COVID-19 story was the biggest of all


But nothing compares to coronavirus.

It’s easy to forget how massive the impact of the outbreak has been in the world of sport as we have bunkered down and dealt with its impact on our lives on a daily basis.

No Wimbledon, no British Open, no Formula One, no European football, no NBA, no MLB …

On the day the Tokyo Olympics were postponed, there was so much coronavirus news that the Games didn’t even lead the 6pm bulletin on Channel Nine in Sydney. The story was shuffled down the list and ran at about 6.10pm. Other virus-related news that day was bigger.

And rightly so. People were, and are, dying. Sport is only sport, after all.

But this is a sports section and we are talking about the Olympic Games being postponed – and it was the fifth biggest story of the day.

Bulldogs interchange players and support staff, seated well apart, look on at an empty ANZ Stadium in round two.Credit:Getty

I write all this as, after 30 years in journalism and a connection to newspapers, this is my last column for The Sun-Herald for the time being. I am relocating to my home town of Brisbane to host breakfast radio on 4BC in the slot left open by the retirement of Alan Jones.

In those 30 years, a lot of extraordinary things have happened – but nothing like this.

When you try and put everything on a global scale into perspective, it makes it more remarkable we are on the brink of an NRL relaunch.

During the past eight weeks, I spent day after day outside NRL headquarters at Moore Park and Racing NSW HQ in Druitt Street trying to keep track of the ever-evolving madness.

It was a remarkable passing parade.

The NRL was on. Then it was off. Players and officials from throughout the game scattered into lockdown. Staff were laid off, or stood down, at the NRL and clubs. It was revealed the NRL would go broke if the season was abandoned altogether. Clubs were rapidly running out of money and facing the very real prospect of insolvency. The NRL’s broadcast partner, Nine, publisher of this masthead, blasted the governing body for the money it said was being wasted. NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg was gone. Others followed.

Former NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg and ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys announce the suspension of the NRL on March 23.

Former NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg and ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys announce the suspension of the NRL on March 23.Credit:AAP

ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys established Project Apollo to restart the NRL. A relaunch date of May 28 was set. The Queensland government said no way.

The players were not happy with a 30 per cent pay cut. Then they accepted 20 per cent. The Warriors were in limbo: they stayed in Australia, then returned to New Zealand to enter quarantine, then they were given permission to come back to Australia to enter quarantine, then they weren’t, then they were.

The Queensland government, which was anti-rugby league rebooting, then suddenly wanted a reboot – and a State of Origin match and the grand final.

Then Nine and Fox Sports wanted huge discounts on what they paid to broadcast the game.

Roosters chairman Nick Politis, whose club started the season with two defeats, wanted points from the first two rounds scrapped. He had supporters and detractors.

The game accessed a $250 million line of credit, just to keep the code afloat.

Add all of this up, along with many more minor skirmishes, and it is remarkable what V’landys has achieved. Every pothole that appeared in the road was filled in and, like “the little engine that could”, he kept going.

It has been a pleasure to write this column each week and engage with you, the readers. Stay well. Enjoy the reboot of sport. I will. See ya down the road.

Jack Wighton and the Raiders will play their "home" games at Campbelltown to restart the NRL season.

Jack Wighton and the Raiders will play their “home” games at Campbelltown to restart the NRL season.Credit:Getty

The luck of the draw

The NRL competition isn’t a fair contest, but teams and fans dudded by the draw and venues will just have to cop it. It’s the necessary price to be paid for an elite competition to get under way in the COVID-19 world.

Without compromise, there would be no competition at all, the game would be broke and the loss of livelihoods would cripple families.

It would have been impossible to frame 18 further rounds without some unfairness.

So, the Raiders and Titans can’t play games at home. That’s a tough one for both. Canberra will fly to Bankstown Airport for home fixtures at Campbelltown. The only saving grace is the chartered flights put on by the NRL are better than six hours on a bus up and down the Hume for a “home” game. The Titans will travel to Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane from the Gold Coast.

The Warriors, it goes without saying, are hopelessly disadvantaged and have no chance whatsoever in the competition. We all owe them.

The Roosters wanted to play at the SCG, where they monstered teams last year, but they’ll be playing out of Bankwest Stadium. The SCG may have to host the Swans, taking ground exclusivity away from the NRL.

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To make matters worse for Politis and co, the two-time defending premiers lost their first two matches and wanted points scrapped for the 2.0 version of season 2020. That request fell on deaf ears, despite an enormous rule change from two referees in the first two rounds to one for the rest of the season.

They’ve also been handed two games against contenders the Broncos and Rabbitohs, while the Sharks, for instance, will not play a top-eight team from 2019 twice in 2020.

The Eels, serious chances in the competition, get to play at their home ground at Bankwest, where they hammered teams last year, and they were also handed a relatively easy draw.

The premiers, whoever they will be, will earn their title this year, but many in the beaten brigade will have excuses. The word asterisk will get thrown around. Asterisk or not, it’s far better than the alternative that befell global events such as Wimbledon and the British Open.

Those events will forever be classified as: 2020, abandoned (COVID-19).

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