MAINTAINING DISTANCE: Before junior seasons kick-off RLI must examine how it manages gamedays at venues like the Karalee Tornadoes where multiple clubs and teams usually attend creating large crowds.
Picture: Franca Tigani
MAINTAINING DISTANCE: Before junior seasons kick-off RLI must examine how it manages gamedays at venues like the Karalee Tornadoes where multiple clubs and teams usually attend creating large crowds. Picture: Franca Tigani

RLI’s new hope

A NSWRL announcement of a plan to restart community league competitions on July 18 has filled RLI stakeholders with hope of returning on a similar date.

Last month grassroots rugby league was suspended until May 1 based on advice from relevant government and health authorities.

With current COVID-19 social distancing restrictions set to expire in NSW at midnight on June 29 (unless further extended), the earliest possible return date is June 30, unless the state government lifts the public health order early.

After continuing to review advice provided by the State Government regarding coronavirus, the NSWRL Board established a plan on Wednesday to resume Rugby League activities from July 2020.

In line with most NSW winter sports, the NSWRL Board has agreed to a competition restart date of July 18 to coincide with the end of the next school holiday period and start of Term 3.

Training will be allowed from July 1 subject to the public health status.

RLI chairman Gary Parker said while the RLI had not made a decision and would await a directive from the QRL and Queensland Government, it was encouraging to see the NSWRL planning for a resumption.

He said it had given him hope the RLI could be up and running in a similar time frame.

"The QRL and the state government are not going to rush into it and rightly so," he said.

"We've been out this long. As long as we start lifting some of the restrictions.

"It might be that we allow A-Grade to start but with no crowds. We had record numbers of under-6s this season prior to this and I'd like to see the juniors back as well but it will depend on the health directive. It will also depend on whether the numbers are still there. Every club is going to have a fair bit of work to do to assemble teams."

Parker said the fact children did not appear to be severely affected by coronavirus boded well for a resumption of junior competitions but logistical issues would also need to be considered.

He said high numbers of players and supporters from various clubs and teams often converged on the one venue and this could be problematic if restrictions surrounding large gatherings were still in place.

"Home games at Karalee for example can have hundreds of people in attendance, so we would need to look at how we manage that," Parker said.

Parker said if it was the case that only A-Grade commenced and crowds were not allowed, RLI would consider holding all games at the North Ipswich Reserve for the initial three or four rounds before moving onto home and away when restrictions lifted to allow clubs to benefit from much-needed gate, bar and canteen takings.

He said many of the clubs had not been viable prior to coronavirus and the disruption could be the catalyst which expedited changes needed to ensure the game was sustainable.

"Some changes might have to be made as a result," he said.

"The RLI has to get back to an amateur status.

"The clubs can't afford to keep paying players.

"This might be the stimulus for that."

Parker said the situation was desperate for more than one club.

He agreed coronavirus had offered society a chance to reassess the way it views sport and why it is important, and said participants needed to remember why they started playing the game as children to ensure its survival.

"I would definitely agree with that," he said.

"Anything that is going to keep the clubs sustainable is an advantage. There are a couple of clubs that are really close to the line. It is not just limited to Ipswich. There are clubs in Toowoomba doing it tough."

The NSWRL decision to kick-off a shortened Community Rugby League season and to restart other abbreviated senior competitions will be further reviewed according to government advice and confirmed by June 1.