NRL players have been given approval to stay in Queensland and won’t be compelled to return to Sydney once their season is over, with clubs and the players’ union shifting their focus to a vaccination drive north of the border.
As eight teams prepare to wind up their campaigns this weekend, players and their families will begin holidays in the sunshine state, with very few booked to return to COVID-stricken Sydney.
In a move similar to that adopted by AFL players last year once they finalised their season in Queensland, the majority of the NRL cohort has told clubs they plan to stay with their families outside of NSW in coming weeks.
Instead of being hosted in resorts and serviced apartments, the players will pay their own way in Queensland, but largely enjoy a life free of the COVID restrictions which have shackled Sydney and regional NSW for more than two months.
It means some players will only be compelled to return to Sydney when pre-season training resumes in November for those clubs which don’t make the finals.
That will force the NRL and its clubs to escalate efforts to have the majority of their players vaccinated while holidaying in Queensland if they don’t want interruptions to pre-season training.
Panthers boss Brian Fletcher offered his club’s vaccination hub for a day to give first doses to Sydney-based players, but it’s unlikely many will even return to NSW any time soon. The facility is administering about 2000 jabs a day.
The NRL has had two separate intakes of families which have quarantined in Queensland, including the latest which left earlier this week.