The NRL is on standby to move the grand final to Townsville and may even consider postponing it should Queensland’s Covid-19 outbreak worsen and fans be prohibited from attending in Brisbane.
The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has so far resisted putting the state into lockdown but, after six new cases were reported on Thursday, announced a 75% capacity cap on crowds allowed into Suncorp Stadium for Sunday’s decider.
Palaszczuk also acknowledged the possibility of blocking spectators completely, and Friday’s case numbers will be critical in determining Queensland Health’s next move. The NRL chief executive, Andrew Abdo, has indicated a decision on where the game will be staged will be made by close of business on Friday.
Rugby league officials have been scrambling to create contingency plans and Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V’landys said he was cognisant of leaving it too late to make a call on the match between South Sydney and Penrith.
“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, do we play it or do we postpone it. There is all these different options.”
V’landys said the ARLC remained “quietly confident” the grand final would be played in Brisbane as planned, but is in regular contact with Abdo in case south-east Queensland goes into lockdown. A postponement could also create a logistical nightmare should the outbreak increase.
“We’re in the hands of the Queensland government, naturally, and we’re confident in their ability,” he said. “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% and we’re being advised that that’s not going to change.”
Townsville’s Queensland Country Bank Stadium remains the Plan B option, though one new case of community transmission was announced in the North Queensland city on Thursday has complicated matters. There is the possibility Rabbitohs and Panthers players could fly in and out on game day.
As it stands, the situation has cost almost 13,000 ticket holders their seats, as the crowd is pared back to just under 40,000 instead of the 52,500 Suncorp holds. Those 25% of fans who purchased their tickets last will be granted refunds.
An empty stadium would also cause further revenue losses for the NRL, which has already bore the financial brunt of relocating to the competition at the behest of the pandemic.