Revealed! NRL sets date for early relaunch
The NRL are secretly working on plans to return to action on June 1 as part of Project Apollo, the incredible plan named after NASA's moon mission.
While the NRL have publicly declared July 1 as their intended start date to resume the competition, privately they are aiming to dramatically fast-track the game's return.
Sport Confidential has learnt the plan would mean players could return to training as early as next month.
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Project Apollo - headed by ARL commissioner Wayne Pearce - was launched on Wednesday with the instruction to do what seems impossible. That is get the competition going earlier than anyone had anticipated. Part of the romance behind channelling US president John F Kennedy's ambition to get a man of the moon is the timeframe.
It took the US eight years to fulfil JFK's 1961 wish, and many thought it would never happen.
Project Apollo have been given eight weeks to kick the competition off again.
Chairman Peter V'landys said Pearce was chosen to head the committee because of his "can do" attitude.
"He is also a person that thinks outside the square," V'landys said. "Some of the proposals the committee is going to put forward are going to be innovate and knowing that the requirement is to recommence as quickly as possible but in doing so, ensuring that the players' safety comes first and the community is at no risk.
"The concepts they are coming up with including the word bubble will ensure the players and the communities safety will be accommodated.
"(A return on) July 1 is more than achievable. There is a chance it will be earlier."
There have been countless suggestions bandied about on how best to start the competition. Conferences is high on the agenda with teams divided into four pools. While resuming the season with Origin has also been floated.
Teams in NSW could be potentially housed at Sydney Olympic Park while Gosford and the Institute of Sport in Canberra are other places being considered in a bid to put a "bubble" around the teams. Queensland are pushing for a prolonged magic-round style start to the competition spread across stadiums in the region.
Clubs have been split on just how long they will need to train their players back up before they can play ranging from two to six weeks.
In an email to all clubs last week, the NRL outlined that players would be given at least a month.
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"The NRL will provide clubs with as much notice as possible of the proposed resumptions of the NRL competition so that players can be brought back to work and pre-season training plans can be put in place," the email read. "We envisage this will be no less than four weeks but we will work with clubs over the coming months to provide as much notice as possible should the NRL competition be able to resume."
The NRL is confident they can work around the government restrictions which includes a new 90 day lockdown. They were seeking clarity around the protocols for training. The biggest obstacle will be getting the Warriors back into the country.
NRL BUBBLE BOYS
NRL players might hold the key to their future, with the Sydney Olympic precinct shaping as a legitimate chance to become a bubble.
While there was early resistance from players to be housed in a secure bubble to play through the competition rounds, recent changes, headlined by pay cuts and funding cuts, have many players now asking their clubs why they can't go in a bubble and resume playing.
The NRL was told on Wednesday night that sport is exempt from the Federal Government's list of banned activities, meaning a strong push from the players and a little co-operation among clubs could get the season started sooner than expected.
There are plenty of hurdles to get over but not as many as might be first assumed.
Better, there are many good, sensible reasons to resume the competition soon.
The three hotels - the Pullman, Novotel and Ibis - boast 544 rooms between them, enough to hold all 16 clubs. Games would be played at ANZ Stadium.
Players could also be bussed to games at Bankwest Stadium, where stadium officials have already checked to show they can set up a secure zone to safekeep the players.
A costing proposal is being prepared for the NRL, with a stadium official saying organising a bubble within the precinct was "very feasible".
A similar scenario was in place for the Invictus Games in 2018, while the precinct has also been fenced off when Supercars rounds were held in Sydney.
There are other benefits, too.
There is the state of the art gym at the NSW Rugby League High Performance Centre, which also has rehab facilities and meeting rooms.
The nearby aquatic centre is perfect for recovery sessions.
The athletic warm-up field, the synthetic hockey field and the warm-up field at the Blues high performance centre could accommodate varying field sessions.
And, at a pinch, teams could also be bussed to and from quarantined venues like Belmore Oval or Penrith's high performance centre for training.
It's believed hotel staff, their other option being job insecurity, have indicated they would be prepared to stay on site to ensure they remain isolated while keeping the hotels operating at full capacity.
The greatest danger is that the NSW Government is looking at the same facility to quarantine the cruise ship passengers.
PLAYERS QUESTION STRONGEST ALLY
The great love-in between the NRL and RLPA, preached at every opportunity, is not quite as smooth as some like to portray.
NRL boss Todd Greenberg and his RLPA counter, Clint Newton, have posed a united front throughout several press conferences recently while pleading the relationship has never been more collaborative.
It has caused concern for some.
Enough that, during a recent meeting, Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans pointedly asked Newton "Whose side are you on?"
To Newton's credit, he has rejected the NRL's move to junk the Collective Bargaining Agreement as both sides work towards whatever next season's pay structure looks like.
The NRL suggested the idea was a no-brainer, given the inevitable change about to take place, under the friendly-friendly guise of rescuing the game, but Newton saw through it and rejected it.
It was a naive, almost hopeful move by the NRL.
Scrapping the CBA before a new deal is agreed upon would mean the players surrendering their greatest bargaining tool.
JOEY'S CALL TO ARMS
Outspoken Wests Tigers centre Joey Leilua received support from teammate Josh Aloiai after Leilua hit out publicly at NRL boss Todd Greenberg for not taking a similar pay cut to the players.
Aloiai echoed Leilua's sentiments by posting on Instagram; "we are all in this together they say but big boss man (Greenberg) is taking a 25 per cent pay cut and still taking home $1 million a year roughly. That doesn't sit right."
Hours later Greenberg cut his pay to the same rate as the players. Manly back-rower Joel Thompson, who has played a leading role in negotiations with the NRL was none too happy with Leilua's comments.
"This guy needs to relax," Thompson wrote on twitter. "(I) can guarantee you all, everyone involved is working extremely hard to keep the game moving forward and to survive. We'll be retired one day and the next crop of players will come in. It's important that rugby league lives on forever."
Originally published as Revealed! NRL sets date for early relaunch