The NRL season has been thrown into chaos after the Queensland government reneged on an agreement to continue playing games if the state went into lockdown.
Three matches scheduled for Saturday afternoon were sensationally postponed after the Queensland government locked down 11 local government areas. League powerbrokers were blindsided, only finding out about the snap decision when it was announced during a government press conference on Saturday morning.
The parties are now locked in delicate negotiations to reschedule the games, some of which could be played on Sunday. The NRL floated the idea of playing a triple-header at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday, with Cronulla and Manly to remain the 4pm game on free-to-air network Channel Nine. Which other games featured, and whether the noon and 6pm timeslots were used, was still up for debate.
The government’s shifting of the goalposts threw the NRL – as well as its clubs, players and their families – into total confusion. South Sydney players, on their way to an historic first NRL fixture in Rockhampton, only learnt the news when they hit the tarmac at Rockhampton airport. They didn’t even disembark as the plane turned around to return them to the Gold Coast.
All sorts of contingency plans were floated in a bid to salvage the other double-header fixtures slated for Suncorp Stadium between Canberra and Newcastle and Penrith and Melbourne. Townsville and Canberra were discussed as alternate venues for the Raiders and Knights encounter, but it became apparent neither side could get out of Queensland before the 4pm lockdown came into force.
Clubs and players were ringing each other on Saturday, scrambling to gain any information on their immediate futures. The NRL was unable to enlighten them as they themselves were desperately working with the Queensland government on contingency plans that would provide the least amount of disruption to the draw.
The NRL shifted its entire competition to Queensland, as well as relocating families, in the understanding there would be no interruption to the competition if the game was in lockdown. The cost of doing so is estimated to be between $12 million and $15 million a month. Suggestions the government did not uphold its end of the bargain will infuriate the players, given it is the second backflip the government has performed.
There was a delay in allowing the 500 families to join the players in Queensland after the government rejected a group application for exemptions. The Queensland government, which was criticised for providing players’ families with preferential treatment during the pandemic, eventually allowed the move once the applications were submitted individually.