All three of Saturday’s games were postponed due to the announcement of a snap lockdown in large parts of Queensland after revelations of six new positive cases north of the Tweed.
“I want to personally thank Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, State Government officials, and in particular, Dr Jeannette Young for allowing us to present the most stringent biosecurity protocols which when implemented will ensure there is minimal to no risk in allowing our matches to be played with no crowds,’’ said ARL commission boss Peter V’landys. All five games will be played behind closed doors with extra protocols including daily testing of players. Players or officials who make any breach “face being immediately removed from the competition, including being removed from the state for non-Queensland based clubs,” the NRL said in a statement.
As part of a revised draw, the NRL announced that:
– South Sydney Rabbitohs’ game with the St George Illawarra Dragons, originally scheduled to take place on Saturday in Rockhampton at 3pm, will be played on Sunday at 6.25pm at Suncorp Stadium.
– Canberra Raiders’ top-eight battle with the Newcastle Knights, originally scheduled to take place on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium at 5.30pm, will be played on Sunday at 1.50pm at Suncorp Stadium.
– Melbourne Storm’s grand final rematch with the Penrith Panthers, originally scheduled to take place on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium at 7.35pm, will be played on Sunday at 4.05pm at Suncorp Stadium.
– Sunday’s clash between Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and the Gold Coast Titans, and Manly Sea Eagles’ match-up with the Cronulla Sharks will now be played at 6pm and 8.05pm respectively on Monday evening.
It leaves the revised schedule for Sunday and Monday as follows:
SUNDAY AUGUST 1
1.50pm: Knights v Raiders
4.05pm: Storm v Panthers
6.25pm: Dragons v Rabbitohs
MONDAY AUGUST 2
6pm: Bulldogs v Titans
8.05pm: Sharks v Sea Eagles
“Our competition will resume tomorrow with a triple header at Suncorp Stadium, followed by a double header on Monday,’’ said NRL CEO Andrew Abdo.
“This will ensure we complete Round 20 and can move to Round 21 as scheduled.
“I would like to thank the clubs, both players and officials for their flexibility, teamwork and co-operation in adjusting to the new stringent protocols and the revised schedule.
“I also wish to thank Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany and Executive Director of Fox Sports Steve Crawley for allowing the rescheduling of the Grand Final rematch as a simulcast match on both Nine and Foxtel tomorrow.”
The rearranged draw follows a chaotic 12-hour period for the NRL in which it was announced by Queensland chief health officer Jeanette Young that the most populated areas of the state would be entering a lockdown.
Currently Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan City, Moreton Bay, Redlands, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Noosa, Somerset, Lockyer Valley and Scenic Rim are under lockdown until Tuesday.
It was announced during a press conference on Saturday that no sport would be played and no exemptions would be granted with immediate effect.
“There will be no football matches,” she said.
“So, no community sport, no professional sport, nothing for the next three days. Starting as of 4:00pm today.”
That left the NRL in a scramble to finalise their plans for Saturday’s games.
Souths were due to play the Dragons in Rockhampton but were forced to wait on the tarmac after they landed there, before being sent back to the Gold Coast.
St George Illawarra had been preparing to head north but were told to return to their team hotel and await further instructions.
“We didn’t know then the game wasn’t going to be going ahead, but we certainly weren’t going to the airport,” Red V coach Anthony Griffin told Fox League.
“We sat around for about an hour and waited for the NRL and eventually the game got called off.
“We’re just sitting in our hotel waiting for next instructions. It’s crazy, but we’ve got to just maintain our preparation for today.
“We could be on a plane in the morning, we just don’t know where we’re going. We had a really good prep leading up to today, we were looking forward to the game. But it is what it is. We’ve just got to rest up.”
All clubs were then placed into level four biosecurity protocols.
Shortly afterwards, Newcastle’s 5.30pm clash with Canberra and Melbourne’s 7.30pm grand final rematch with Penrith were canned.
The NRL had explored the possibility of rearranging any of the three games in other parts of Australia but faced an uphill struggle to get the fixtures organised with the right broadcast, officiating and biosecurity support in place.
ARL commission chairman V’landys confirmed the NRL would get Round 20 out of the way, before deciding whether the competition would need to move further north or interstate.
“We had communication from the Victorian government wanting to assist us. At the moment we just want to play this round, we have got to be prepared for next week.
“I am quietly confident because we’ve introduced some of the most stringent biosecurity protocols with zero risk involved but that’s got be signed off by the Queensland government.”