The NRL could consider postponing Sunday’s grand final in Brisbane if fans aren’t allowed as a range of contingency plans are hashed out to deal with Queensland’s COVID-19 outbreak.
The next 24 hours will be critical for the NRL decider to go ahead at Suncorp Stadium with league bosses wary of leaving it too late to make a call to either relocate the game or play on in Brisbane as planned.
It presents a logistical nightmare three days out from the grand final with capacity for Sunday’s decider already reduced to 75 per cent after six new cases of coronavirus were reported in Queensland on Thursday.
“We’re in the hands of the Queensland government, naturally, and we’re confident in their ability,” Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys told AAP.
“But we’ve got contingency plans for every scenario and we’ve just got to take each day as it comes and look at what’s going on and make the appropriate decisions
“At this stage it’s all systems go for Suncorp on Sunday with the capped crowd of 75 per cent and we’re being advised that that’s not going to change.
“We’re hoping the outbreak doesn’t get worse and we stay on course.”
With the threat of lockdown bearing down on south-east Queensland, the NRL could be forced to act fast on Friday.
Townsville remains on standby to hold the premiership decider between South Sydney and Penrith should case numbers increase and force a last-minute shift.
However, one new case of community transmission was announced in the North Queensland city on Thursday, adding to the logistical dilemma.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has so far resisted a lockdown.
However, she did acknowledge that should cases continue to rise there is a possibility Sunday’s game could go ahead without fans no matter where it’s played.
Those decisions will be made by government and Queensland Health over the next 24 hours and will be determined by case numbers.
“If there was to be no crowd we’d have to look at the whole situation, so I really can’t say,” V’landys said.
“I don’t want to talk on the hypothetical. We’ve got contingency plans ready for all scenarios.
“We have to look at our options in that regard (if there were no crowds), do we play it or do we postpone it?
“There is all these different options.
“We haven’t sat down as a commission with (chief executive) Andrew (Abdo) to finalise what we’re going to go, but we have a number of contingencies to consider if worse comes to worse.
“(Friday) is crucial to see what happens because we’re getting close, but we’re still quietly confident that we’ll go ahead on Sunday.”
That timeline will be critical for the NRL, with the ARL commission on standby for an emergency meeting to decide how to proceed with Sunday’s game.
There is a risk the outbreak could worsen significantly which would favour playing the game on Sunday to finish the season while the opportunity is available.
An empty stadium would be a huge financial hit for the NRL after another expensive season of relocating the competition around COVID-19 outbreaks.
The NRL were forced to refund 25 per cent of ticketholders for the sold-out game after the capacity was slashed from 52,500 to 39,000.
In a last-in, first-out policy, refunds will be issued to the 25 per cent of fans who most recently purchased their tickets in each allocation.