The Sydney Roosters’ clash with Melbourne has become the first NRL match moved as a result of NSW’s COVID outbreak as other clubs begin planning for further ramifications.
Roosters officials made the call to move next Thursday’s clash from the SCG – the next NRL game due to be played in Sydney.
The game is the first of five originally scheduled to be played in Sydney next week, but at this stage no mass exodus out of the city is planned.
The Warriors, Penrith, Canterbury and Wests Tigers also have home games in Sydney next week, but none are yet eying moves.
Instead, it’s possible games could be reduced to 50 per cent capacity under current government restrictions that are at this stage due to end next Wednesday.
Clubs have already began planning for how to deal if those conditions are extended, with games Leichhardt and Penrith already believed to be sold beyond the 50 per cent mark.
Staff are also working from home at the Roosters, South Sydney and Tigers with the three clubs’ headquarters falling into the hotspot.
But while the Roosters players continue to train at Moore Park, there are a number of factors that prompted next Thursday night’s switch.
The club’s home ground remains within a nationally designated COVID-19 hotspot, with the Sydney outbreak emanating out of the eastern suburbs.
Melbourne are also still based on the Sunshine Coast, and borders remain closed between Queensland Greater Sydney.
“The people of the Hunter region love rugby league so it was an easy call to take our round-16 home game to Newcastle,” Roosters coach Trent Robinson said.
Meanwhile it also appears most likely that matches will switch back into the format they were during 2020 during the outbreak.
That is likely to be most evident for Cronulla’s away trip to Brisbane, given the Sharks will need to travel across a closed border.
Clubs were last season able to travel between states using chartered flights with same-day travel, ruling out any need for overnight accommodation.
Sydney-based NRL players have been placed in level-three restrictions, effectively returning them to last year’s bubble.
The majority of the NRL’s focus this week has been on ensuring all essential staff could be present for State of Origin II at Suncorp Stadium.
However another hurdle does lay ahead with Game III scheduled to be played in Sydney on July 14.
The Storm confirmed on Thursday that Ryan Papenhuyzen will use the clash with the Roosters as his return match.
Papenhuyzen has not played since being heavily concussed in Magic Round, ruling him out of the first two State of Origin matches.
The Storm are hopeful of returning home to Melbourne for round 18 after Origin III, with the COVID-19 situation easing in Victoria.