Australian Rugby League pushes ahead with May 28 NRL restart

SYDNEY (AP) — Australian Rugby League commissioner Wayne Pearce says players in the top-flight national competition will be back in training early next month and organizers are pushing ahead with the planned season re-start on May 28.

After two days of commission meetings and a telephone conference with the chief executives of NRL clubs, Pearce on Wednesday said the finer details of the competition structure were still being finalized but, “everyone is supportive of what we’re doing. Everyone is unified into getting back on the field.”

“We reaffirmed that May 28 is the starting date for the competition. We also confirmed that teams will be able to train from May 4,” he said.

The NRL competition was suspended last month after two rounds played in empty stadiums because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Strict international and domestic travel restrictions and social distancing policies meant group practice sessions at all clubs were canceled and teams from New Zealand and Queensland state basically went into lockdown. Sports leagues and events around the world have been canceled or postponed during the pandemic, although baseball leagues in Taiwan and South Korea have either just resumed or are about to start.

Pearce said government authorities he’d been dealing with supported the resumption of the league, although there’s still no clarity on whether the Broncos, Titans and Cowboys from Queensland state and the Warriors from New Zealand will have to relocate to short-term bases closer to Sydney to be involved in the competition.

The Warriors would have to go into two weeks of quarantine after arriving in Australia, another complicating factor.

“We are working with the government authorities to get them over here, get them through a quarantine period and have them ready with the other teams for the start of the competition,” Pearce said.

Organizers have confirmed that the competition standings following the first two rounds will be carried into the next phase of the season, and Pearce added that meetings of the the league’s innovation committee provided clarity on the medical process and protocols that need to be put in place for games to go ahead.

“We feel like we owe it to not just the players and coaches but the thousands of staff members at various clubs and associated industries that are out on the unemployment lines, too,” he said.

It has been a tumultuous week for the NRL, with Todd Greenberg quitting as chief executive after the league’s governing body was criticized by its main broadcaster for wasteful spending.

In a statement Monday, Greenberg said he was resigning by mutual agreement, after “reflecting on the needs of the game.”