Will Newcastle become the new home of the National Rugby League?
Boss Peter V’landys has confirmed relocating players out of Sydney is a genuine consideration after COVID-19 cases in the city rose sharply this week.
Numbers and locations across the next 24 to 48 hours are set to determine if the NRL pulls the trigger on relocation contingency plans to ensure the competition can continue.
It came after 44 new cases were announced in Greater Sydney, prompting harsher lockdown restrictions on residents.
McDonald Jones Stadium will host the third State of Origin fixture on Wednesday 14 July, while two other encounters – Melbourne Storm v Sydney Roosters, South Sydney v North Queensland – were also moved to the Hunter.
Currently NRL players and staff are under level four biosecurity protocols, but V’landys admits there is another option available if Sydney’s outbreak worsens.
“The figures in the next 24 to 48 hours are crucial,” he told AAP.
“We have always planned for every contingency and the reason we’re where we are is because we want to have the least inconvenience to the players and their families, so that’s why we’ve stayed here under level four protocols.
“However, if it gets worse we have to look at relocation.
“We’ve already got that contingency up our sleeve.
“In saying that we’ve got to go to an area we’re confident there’s going to be no infection as well.
“This Delta variant is a massive concern and it could jump state borders.”
The growing crisis in NSW’s capital city has already cost four injured Blues from being able to join the State of Origin team in Newcastle next week.
The NSWRL had hoped the likes of Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Daniel Saifiti and Jake Trbojevic could join the squad for Game III.
But, the COVID numbers have prompted the NRL to deny that request, forcing them to stay in their club’s bubbles.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state was facing the biggest challenge since the pandemic started.
However, the highly-infectious strain of the virus has been contained in the Greater Sydney area with regional areas untouched.
Last year the NRL considered regional hubs to keep the competition alive and it could again be an option this season.
Relocating clubs to Melbourne or Queensland are the other considerations, depending on case numbers and government guidelines.
Contingencies could involve moving Sydney-based clubs out of the area, or all 16 clubs to one location to avoid travel and border restrictions.
“What we’ve done is planned for the worst case scenarios so we’re ready,” V’landys said.
“We’ll watch the data in the next 24 to 48 hours and especially where the infections are.
“If it gets worse, which is a possibility, we’ll look at all options.”
Get all the latest Newcastle news, sport, entertainment, lifestyle, competitions and more delivered straight to your inbox with the Newcastle Weekly Daily Newsletter. Sign up here.