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NRL announces competition to continue despite increased travel restrictions

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys addressed the media on Sunday in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic to announce the 2020 Telstra Premiership would continue.

Round two will be played behind closed doors and then the NRL will reassess the situation with V'landys conceding the decision could be taken out of their hands if the federal government adopts stricter guidelines.

"We're in an area our game has never been in before. It's certainly one of the greatest challenges for us to stay viable in the history of the game," he said.

"Any decision we make today may change tomorrow. This situation is fluid and is changing by the hour.

"We will continue to take the best expert advice including the government and chief medical officers' advice. We have always acted on that advice.

"All decisions we make will have the players health and safety as the paramount consideration. That also includes our staff and anyone else involved in our game. Because it's changing so quickly we would be silly to go in just one direction.

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"We are going to review all options including isolating players, suspending the season. In order to have the best advice, we have commissioned a bio-security expert. We have also commissioned a pandemic expert."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday announced a directive to suspend non-essential public gatherings of 500 people or more, starting on Monday. On Sunday he said Australia would follow New Zealand's lead in requiring all people arriving in the country to self-isolate for 14 days.

The opening round has been played without restrictions and will finish with Sunday's clashes between Manly and Melbourne at Lottoland and the St George Illawarra v Wests Tigers fixture at WIN Stadium.

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"I can't stress enough that our game has never faced a challenge like this. The longer it takes, the more pressure on our financial viability," V'landys said.

"It could have catastrophic effects on us moving forward. Our money will only last so long and once it's extinguished we are in big trouble. Australia without rugby league is not Australia.

"The government has to assist us in this crisis because it's not of our own doing.

"It's people's escape and relaxation. We need to continue to do everything to continue the great tradition of rugby league."

When pressed on the financial implications of shutting down the competitions, V'landys expressed deep concern.

"I spent all day yesterday looking into our accounts and all I thought was catastrophic," he said.

It could have catastrophic effects on us moving forward.

Peter V'landys

"It's very bleak, we don't want to put dollar amounts on it at this stage. We need to be diligent. 

"I think there will always be a game but the game as we know it now is in jeopardy.

"There's more than just the viability of the game. The economic multiplier for us to keep playing is immense. I can't stress that enough."

V'landys said the NRL had given players guidelines to help minimise the risk of them contracting the disease.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and ARL chairman Peter V'landys at Rugby League Central.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and ARL chairman Peter V'landys at Rugby League Central. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

"They are going to have to be a lot more careful than in their normal lives."

"I've just received an email from a resort that can accommodate all 16 teams in Northern Queensland with all the facilities," V'landys said on Triple M.

Earlier on Sunday, Warriors CEO Cameron George confirmed the NRL squad will remain in Australia this week. Their players and staff were scheduled to arrive home on Sunday afternoon after Saturday's opening-round loss to the Knights in Newcastle.

Greenberg said the Warriors would base themselves in Kingscliff on the NSW-Queensland border and play their round-two match against Canberra at Gold Coast's Cbus Super Stadium instead of the scheduled clash at Auckland's Eden Park on Saturday.

"Public health must come first. I will reiterate that all matches will be broadcast live and rugby league will be covered across all platforms. We're in constant contact with all clubs and the RLPA. Please be patient with us as we navigate this complex situation," he said.

"As we sit here today no player has tested positive to coronavirus," he added before saying if that situation changed, they would revise their decision.

"We're looking at a condensed or extended version of the season. They're all being worked through."

V'landys confirmed the NRL was not insured against a pandemic such as  coronavirus and added he did not think any sport would be as insurance companies would not take on such a risk.

Warriors duo Patrick Herbert and Peta Hiku are returning to New Zealand to be with their families - Herbert became a father recently and Hiku's partner is eight months pregnant.

"The Warriors deserve a lot of credit, for the greater good of the competition they understand their obligations," Greenberg said.

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"If that means bringing families across we'll assess that."

The Warriors team would have returned in time to avoid the compulsory two-week self-isolation period which comes into effect from midnight for all people arriving in New Zealand.

"However, with the travelling restrictions coming into place, returning to New Zealand would effectively remove us from the competition," said George, who is flying back to Auckland on Sunday.

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"Ultimately we have reached a decision for the team to stay in Australia for the coming week. They’ll be based on the Gold Coast and will play Canberra next weekend, probably at Cbus Super Stadium.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Saturday people arriving in the country would need to self-isolate for 14 days, with those arriving from the Pacific Islands the only exception. The restrictions are to take place from midnight Sunday (10pm Sunday AEDT).

The Raiders were set to travel to New Zealand to take on the Warriors next Saturday as part of an historic double-header at Eden Park before a Super Rugby match featuring the Auckland Blues and ACT Brumbies.

Canberra CEO Don Furner on Sunday issued a statement to say the game needed time to "assess this situation before providing any further communications, so we appreciate your patience while we work through this unprecedented situation".

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"Rugby League is known for its resilience and we know we will work through this together. We would ask that you hold tight and await further information, as we won’t be able to provide any answers over the phone or email at this point."

New Zealand's one-day international cricket series against Australia has been cancelled, with the New Zealand team to travel home and the final two matches of the series abandoned.

The A-League has been placed in a similar situation - its sole New Zealand team, the Wellington Phoenix, is set to base itself in Australia after Sunday's home clash with Melbourne Victory.

Wellington are third on the ladder heading into the final rounds.

SANZAAR has announced the Super Rugby competition has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.