The ARLC has confirmed the NRL intends to get back on the playing field on 28 May but there is still no clarity on what the competition will look like once the 2020 season restarts.
Meetings of the league’s innovation committee and the ARL Commission were held on Thursday before ARL commissioner Wayne Pearce confirmed the intention to get the league back underway in seven weeks’ time.
The announcement came just hours after Channel Nine aimed a scathing broadside at the league, accusing it of “mismanagement” and squandering millions of dollars over a number of years.
“The details on the competition structure we haven’t got yet because the landscape is changing around government boundaries. That will feed into the complexity structure,” said Pearce, who is also heads up Project Apollo, the panel charged with finding a way of getting the season back up and running.
“Today what we landed on was a starting date. We haven’t finalised what that [competition] looks like yet. Why we want to firm up a date is to give certainty to players and their schedules, clubs and thousands or people who are out of work through clubs and millions of fans.
“It’s a mark for everyone to work towards that’s associated with the game.”
Pearce suggested the proposal to split the league into conferences was off the table.
“We’re leaning towards a competition structure that looks more aligned with what we’ve currently got. We’re not going to the conference scenario at the moment,” he said.
“We’ve currently got support from the NSW government in terms of if we adhere to public health guidelines and make sure our players follow those guidelines we are able to train and play provided we have strict measures around testing the players and put other protocols in place to minimise the risk of infection within the playing group and community.”
Earlier, in a strongly-worded statement, broadcasting rights co-holder Channel Nine criticised the NRL’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, which forced the 2020 season to be put on hold after just two rounds and plunged the game into financial crisis.
Pearce said the NRL was still planning to work with Nine for the rest of the season and honour the $1.8bn deal signed with the broadcaster and Foxtel in 2015.
“They’re a key partner for us and we intend to fulfil our contractual obligations. We hope to maintain a working relationship that will work for both parties,” he said.
The Channel Nine statement read: “At Nine we had hoped to work with the NRL on a solution to the issues facing rugby league in 2020, brought on so starkly by Covid-19.
“But this health crisis in our community has highlighted the mismanagement of the code over many years. Nine has invested hundreds of millions in this game over decades and we now find they have profoundly wasted those funds with very little to fall back on to support the clubs, the players and supporters.
“In the past the NRL have had problems and we’ve bailed them out many times including a $50m loan to support clubs when the last contract was signed.
“It would now appear that much of that has been squandered by a bloated head office completely ignoring the needs of the clubs, players and supporters.”