No crowds, no play

Three-step plan could stop Group 9 return

It is hard to see any situation allowing a packed Madigan Hill watching the Tumut Blues play in 2020.

It makes for grim reading but the message from NSW Rugby League is pretty clear, if senior competitions can’t play in front of crowds, a 2020 season looks unlikely.

NSW Rugby League Operations Manager Robert Lowrie divulged more on the topic, touching on player payments and increasing costs.

“Revenue drives senior rugby league in most of NSW and unless players were to play for free and operating costs saw significant reductions, it would be hard to see any competitions commencing this year,” Lowrie said.

Last Friday, NSWRL released a projected commencement date of July 18 for Group 9 and 20, which would see nine-round competitions played and grand finals scheduled for September 26 or 27.

Still, Lowrie explained that these dates were only tentative and a more concrete decision would be announced on June 1.

“The July 18 date for resumption has been set by the rugby league board and NSWRL will meet again on June 1 to discuss that before deciding if they can proceed, which will be in line with any health warning, whether that be Federal or State,” Lowrie said.

What makes a July 18 resumption date even less likely is the recent decision by the National Cabinet to implement a three-step relaxation of social gathering restrictions, with each state and territory deciding when these stages will be introduced.

In these three stages, step one allows for outdoor sport for up to 10 people but within the AIS Framework for Rebooting Sport.

The second stage has a maximum of 20 people, while the final step allows for community sport to be considered, again in line with the AIS.

That final step, which isn’t likely to be enacted until mid-July, only allows venues to operate with gatherings of up to 100 people, well below the number needed for crowds to attend Group 9 and Group 20 fixtures.

With the NSW government enforcing stage one of this plan from today, allowing groups of 10 or less to gather for training, there was a glimmer of hope that clubs could resume training immediately.

Lowrie explained that it wasn’t so simple for rugby league clubs to return to the paddock and requested that they remain patient while NSWRL determine how these changes impact rugby league.

“At the moment clubs cannot train, the number one priority is the health and safety of those players, club officials, fans and the general public, and right now we are actually waiting for a bit more detail around these changes and what they actually means for us,” Lowrie said.

“We will produce a document called the safe return to training and playing guidelines, which will be the basis for all clubs returning to the field.”

Despite the seemingly endless amount of challenges ahead of country rugby league clubs, Lowrie insisted that the governing body wanted to see the sport played and would be willing to work with clubs and competitions who were struggling, or even hesitant of playing this year.

“Competitions will vary and contracts will have to change and we will be totally understanding with all of that and our staff will work with clubs to get some football played,” Lowrie said.

“It could be a case that a club looks at it’s own business model before considering what they can afford to do this year.

“We are about getting players on the park and playing footy, opposed to not playing footy, but it needs to be done right.”

Group 9 Director Andrew Hinchcliffe reinforced Lowrie’s comments regarding crowd attendance at Group 9 fixtures and the possibility of the competition commencing.

“There is a lot of working parts and things that need to happen for us to see footy played this season,” Hinchcliffe said.

“It just makes the governance of the competition somewhat of an unknown and we are going to be reliant on the news that filters down from NSWRL and the NSW government.”

Blues president Bryan Black couldn’t see any team in the competition wanting to play in front of no crowds, touching on the severe financial implications.

“It would be very difficult to play with no crowd and with no supporters there, and gate wise it would really hurt us,  Black said.

“I would think there would be a lot of clubs in the group that would struggle with that possibility, including Tumut.”

When quizzed on Group 9 potentialy starting later than July 18, Black wasn’t on board with the idea.

“I wouldn’t think we could start later, it would make things too difficult but if an option for Tumut to play is presented, we will do out best to be involved,” Black said.

“We have been really hurt by the issues over the last few months and I couldn’t see the competition pushing forward after July.”