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Growing pain: NRL must learn from coronavirus experience

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Former Newcastle Knights forward Clint Newton believes the resumption of the NRL season this week can be the code’s “finest hour”.

As Chief Executive of the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA), Newton is fully aware of the challenges the game has faced over the past few months.

After being forced to shut down the competition in late March because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NRL soon became embroiled in a dispute with long-time broadcast partner Nine, during which the code was accused of a lack of transparency and financial mismanagement.

There was also widespread scepticism when it launched Project Apollo in an audacious bid to make a return to live competition, while some players’ refusal to take the flu vaccination, others not adhering to social distancing measures and a rule change to one on-field referee fuelled further controversy.

Clint Newton during his playing days with the Newcastle Knights in August 2015. Photo: Getty Images

Despite all of this, the NRL will be back in action on Thursday night (28 May) as the Brisbane Broncos tackle first-placed Parramatta at Suncorp Stadium.

Newton says the code is at a crucial point in its history and needs to learn from its mistakes.

“We need to grow from this experience and that will only be achieved by our ability to adapt, evolve and agree on the levels of transparency that we require to enhance the trust that is necessary to drive the game forward,” he tells Newcastle Weekly.

“Self-preservation and ego were not going to get us back on the field and it’s not going to put us in a position where we will have significantly grown from this.”

Newton believes an approach built around selflessness, compassion and understanding, effective communication and transparency will safeguard the NRL’s future.

“These things are all hard work,” he says.

“The easy option is to drop back into the default position, and we will have learned nothing.

“The question that everyone will need to continue to ask themselves is: will we be proud of this in 10 years’ time?

“What have we learned and how far have we advanced the game into a position that is going to set some foundations that will safeguard its future?”

Apart from the Broncos clash with the Eels, round three will see North Queensland face the Gold Coast on Friday (29 May) from 6pm, while Sydney Roosters take on South Sydney at 7.55pm.

On Saturday, New Zealand faces St George Illawarra, Cronulla tackles Wests Tigers, and Melbourne will play Canberra.

The Knights battle Penrith on Sunday from 4.05pm, with Manly and Canterbury the final fixture at 6.30pm.

Go to the NRL’s website for more information or to view the draw.

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