And even if they can get around the logistics of moving teams around the country and across the Tasman during this time, how can they enforce physical distancing during games? It's pretty hard to tackle someone whilst staying 1.5 metres away from them.
NRL announce May 28 return with potential for full season on the cards
By Michael Chammas
Updated April 9, 2020 — 5.11pmfirst published at 2.31pm
The NRL will restart the season on May 28 and have mapped out a strategy to "fulfil its contractual obligations" to broadcasters by playing the remaining 22 rounds and finishing the season in November.
The governing body has announced the competition will return in seven weeks, but will first need to come to an agreement with its broadcast partners over the value of the rights deal before signing off on the structure of the season.
As revealed by the Herald on Wednesday afternoon, the NRL had two proposals on the table and were set to decide on either a 15-round competition that would see all teams play each other once or a 16-round, two-conference system.
However, the Herald has been told by sources with knowledge of the discussions that tense broadcast negotiations have forced them to rethink those plans, with the NRL now considering fulfilling its contractual obligations and playing the remaining 22 rounds of football that could see the competition head into November.
"Today what we landed on was a starting date," ARL commissioner Wayne Pearce said.
"We haven't finalised what that [competition] looks like yet. Why we want to firm up a date is to give certainty to players and their schedules, clubs and thousands or people who are out of work through clubs and millions of fans.
"It's a mark for everyone to work towards that's associated with the game."
Strangely, the clubs weren't told about the NRL's plans for a 22-round season when they had their phone hook-up with the governing body on Thursday afternoon.
It's understood the latest possible date that the NRL is willing to play the grand final without disruption to the 2021 season is November 15.
The innovation committee meeting on Thursday, which lasted almost four hours and included a special appearance from South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett, also decided that State of Origin series would be played in the middle of the season.
Souths coach Wayne Bennett made a special guest appearance at the NRL's innovation committee meeting on Thursday.
Souths coach Wayne Bennett made a special guest appearance at the NRL's innovation committee meeting on Thursday.CREDIT:GETTY
As it stands, the NRL is waiting for formal government approval before deciding on whether all teams will be based in Sydney at the start of the competition, with discussions around border exemptions well under way.
The Queensland government isn’t providing the same freedom as NSW, but there is confidence that by the time the season restarts the restrictions will be relaxed.
That would allow all teams, with the likely exception of the Warriors, to base themselves at home and travel interstate on chartered flights on game day. If things don't change, interstate teams will need to be based in Sydney.
"We're leaning towards a competition structure that looks more aligned with what we've currently got. We're not going to the conference scenario at the moment," he said.
"We've currently got support from the NSW government in terms of if we adhere to public health guidelines and make sure our players follow those guidelines we are able to train and play provided we have strict measures around testing the players and put other protocols in place to minimise the risk of infection within the playing group and community"
It was also determined that all teams would have to return to pre-season training at the same time to not disadvantage clubs such as the Warriors, who at this point will have to undergo a 14-day self-isolation program when they arrive in Australia.
May 4 has been earmarked as the first day of training, however as it stands the Warriors are in lockdown in New Zealand until the end of this month, and would require government exemption to travel across the Tasman.
Complicating matters is a frosty relationship between the NRL and broadcast partner Channel Nine (the publishers of this masthead), highlighted by a scathing attack on the governing body from the free-to-air network on Thursday.
"At Nine we had hoped to work with the NRL on a solution to the issues facing rugby league in 2020, brought on so starkly by COVID-19," said a spokesperson for Nine.
"But this health crisis in our community has highlighted the mismanagement of the code over many years. Nine has invested hundreds of millions in this game over decades and we now find they have profoundly wasted those funds with very little to fall back on to support the clubs, the players and supporters.
"In the past the NRL have had problems and we've bailed them out many times, including a $50m loan to support clubs when the last contract was signed. It would now appear that much of that has been squandered by a bloated head office completely ignoring the needs of the clubs, players and supporters."
The attack, which could well be the final nail in the coffin of NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg, has cast a huge cloud over Nine's future in the sport.
The Herald's revelation that the NRL intends to play out the remainder of the 22 rounds was met with angst by Nine insiders, who had previously expressed a reluctance to push past the traditional early October grand final.
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