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The NRL finally calls off the season following advice from its pandemic experts – despite wanting to keep the game going for financial reasons

Jenni Ryall

Image: NRL

Following the lead of the AFL, the NRL on Monday finally suspended its season and heeded health warnings relating to the coronavirus pandemic.

Australian Rugby League (ARL) Commission chairman Peter V'landys and NRL CEO Todd Greenberg called off the league in a press conference on Monday evening, citing a dramatic turn in events related to the spread of COVID-19, colloquially referred to as the coronavirus, and the inability to guarantee the health of the players.

"The paramount consideration in all our decision making has always been the safety and the health of our players. Unfortunately, that has taken a dramatic turn today. Our pandemic expert and biosecurity expert has said due to the rapid rate of infection that we can no longer guarantee the safety of our players to continue to play," V'landys said.

"Accordingly, we are suspending the season. We aren't going to put a time period to it."

Greenberg called the decision unprecedented and a sad day for rugby league.

"The advice has changed, and as that changes, so do we. Tonight, our situation has changed dramatically. We have made the unprecedented decision to suspend the 2020 season. It is indeed a deeply sad day, but one of the most responsible days in our game's history," Greenberg said. "We would not have reached this point unless the conditions had shifted so dramatically and so exponentially."

The decision followed mounting restrictions from federal and state governments and firm warnings from health officials, with Australian society essentially in lockdown and residents advised to keep a distance of 1.5 metres from others. In Round 2 of the NRL on the weekend, social distancing was thrown out the window for players to entertain the masses via live-streamed games in empty stadiums.

According to the NRL website, the league was forced to cancel the season due to updated medical advice and made it clear the NRL was keen to keep the competition going for financial reasons.

"The ARL Commission held a meeting at Rugby League Central on Monday and right up until midway through Monday afternoon NRL officials were determined to keep the competition going given the financial fallout of postponing games, however the rapidly shifting nature of the pandemic has forced the NRL’s hand," the NRL wrote.

"It is understood medical authorities updated their advice, which meant the Commission had to put its competition on hold."

According to Greenberg, players have been informed and asked to not turn up to training. Staff at NRL's offices have been asked to take their annual leave and its offices have been shut until May 1.

"The impact of this decision on those who work in rugby league will be significant," Greenberg said.

"This was a difficult decision, but an important one, to give our business the very best chance of retaining staff long-term and allows us to consider our options to protect the long-term future of the game."