BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Full contact, collision football will make a comeback when Australia’s National Rugby League restarts its interrupted season with the Brisbane Broncos hosting Parramatta on May 28.
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo announced the revised draw Friday for the third and fourth rounds, more than two months after the NRL season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Sports in most parts of the world have been shuttered because of the pandemic, with tentative returns of baseball leagues in Taiwan and South Korea and soccer in South Korea leading the way.
Crowds were allowed into games in the first round of Australia’s NRL season in March but barred from the second round — after the government imposed strict social distancing measures in order to limit the the number of COVID-19 cases.
The competition went into recess from March 23 because Australia and New Zealand closed borders. There’ll be no fans allowed in match venues when the season resumes, at least in the short term.
“Today we have released the next two rounds of the draw to provide certainty for clubs, coaches and players so they can plan for the coming weeks,” Abdo said, adding that the remainder of the draw was being finalized. “Rugby league is so important to so many people. We hope that the football resuming will bring some positivity and excitement back to our fans and the wider community.”
The remainder of the draw and dates and venues for the annual State of Origin series aren’t the only things still to be resolved by organizers.
The NRL’s plans to reduce the number of on-field referees in each game from two to one has been opposed by the referees’ union. A new “6 again” rule designed to speed up play and reduce infringements in the ruck has also been hotly debated.
The contentious “no-jab, no-play” policy of the Queensland state health officials means players who don’t get the annual flu vaccination will not be permitted to play north of the Queensland-New South Wales border. Some players have refused to get the vaccination, causing a robust debate that threatened to derail the sport’s comeback until the government intervened to confirm the regulations.
Players and coaching staff from the New Zealand Warriors are based north of Sydney after returning to Australia to prepare or the season relaunch after spending 14 days in quarantine, during which time they were allowed to train.
The New Zealanders, who were nicknamed the “Nomads” on return to Australia, will reopen against St. George-Illawarra on Saturday, May 30, In other third-round games, South Sydney will play the Sydney Roosters, Melbourne Storm will take on the Canberra Raiders, the Cowboys and Titans will meet in a North vs. southern Queensland derby and the Bulldogs will face Manly.
Players from all of the Australian-based club have started practicing together after being restricted to individual training during the height of the lockdown.
Win-loss records from the first two rounds will be carried into the remainder of the competition, meaning six of the 16 teams will be starting on 4 points.
The Aussie rules Australian Football League plans to resume its national competition on June 11. The rugby union and soccer are yet to confirm dates for the restart of their Super Rugby and A-League seasons.
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