The NRL upped and relocated the entirety of its operations to Queensland in a desperate bid to keep the competition alive. In a brutal twist today, the insidious delta strain of COVID-19 has found its way into the sunshine state seeing the Queensland government act swiftly to get on top of a potential outbreak. The state government has put South-East Queensland into lockdown with 11 local government areas shutdown and subsequently banning professional sports until Tuesday.
With three games of Round 20 already played and the finals looming the NRL is understandably extremely keen to keep everything on track and is already appealing for clemency from the government. Unfortunately, the NRL also lowered COVID protocols from Level 4 just this past Thursday in a case of brutally poor timing. They no longer have that huge bargaining chip to work with and are left at the mercy of a state body that wants to nip a potential disaster while it is still in the bud.
So what does this mean for the NRL?
Assuming that their appeal is turned down then they are looking at a second relocation or putting the competition on a short-term hiatus. I have no clue on the logistics of the move in terms of today and tomorrow but Townsville looms as an appealing hub for the remainder of Round 20. That would mean the superest of Super Sundays with presumably the finals five games of the round to be played out tomorrow.
The second scenario would see the NRL just riding out the government lockdown until Tuesday and rescheduling the remainder of Round 20 for next week. That would leave the six teams that have already competed this week, including the Parramatta Eels, with a bonus bye as the competition adjusts by shunting everything else a week back. An extra week of healing for Mitchell Moses would be a massive boon and this is almost certainly the ideal outcome for the Eels.
Finally, the NRL could gain an exemption against all odds to carry on with the competition under the proviso that they enter full lockdown on and off the field. Had the NRL maintained their stringent bubble protocols this probably was a cakewalk but now I am not so sure.
Regardless of how it plays out, we all now have a nervous wait to see how this plays out. If QLD can’t get on top of these initial delta strain carriers then we have an entirely different problem on our hands – for the NRL and for Australia.