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NRL grand final given reprieve amid fears of move to Townsville or postponement | NRL


Fears the NRL grand final may have to be shifted to Townsville or even postponed have for now been alleviated after Queensland reported only three Covid-19 cases on Friday.

The sport’s governing body had been on standby to move Sunday night’s season showpiece away from Brisbane, and even floated the possibility of delaying should the outbreak worsen and fans be prohibited from attending at Suncorp Stadium.

But the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, on Friday indicated that the 75% capacity cap on crowds she had announced on Thursday after six cases were reported would – for now, at least – stand.

“It’s going to depend what happens tomorrow, it’s going to depend on what’s happening the next day,” Palaszczuk said. “But it’s encouraging news today. It’s encouraging news today that we do not have any unlinked community transmission when we’ve had a high level of testing.”

The NRL chief executive, Andrew Abdo, has indicated a decision on where the decider will be staged will be made by close of business on Friday.

Rugby league officials have been scrambling to create contingency plans and Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V’landys said he was cognisant of leaving it too late to make a call on the match between South Sydney and Penrith.

“If there was to be no crowd we’d have to look at the whole situation, so I really can’t say,” V’landys said. “I don’t want to talk on the hypothetical. We’ve got contingency plans ready for all scenarios. We have to look at our options in that regard, do we play it or do we postpone it? There is all these different options.”

Queensland’s chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, said “we just need to see what happens over the next few days, so we’ve put in place those restrictions – the 75% capacity limit. And that people must wear masks at all times, except when they’re in their allocated seated ticketed seat, when they can take them off if they’re having something to eat or drink.”

However, Palaszczuk said she would “have no qualms” putting the state in lockdown between now and Sunday if case numbers rose again. “People know me, they know Dr Young,” she said. “We will act swiftly and we will go hard and fast, and no ifs and no buts.”

V’landys said the ARLC remained “quietly confident” the grand final would be played in Brisbane as planned, but is in regular contact with Abdo in case south-east Queensland goes into lockdown. A postponement could also create a logistical nightmare should the outbreak increase.

“We’re in the hands of the Queensland government, naturally, and we’re confident in their ability,” he said. “But we’ve got contingency plans for every scenario and we’ve just got to take each day as it comes and look at what’s going on and make the appropriate decisions.

“At this stage it’s all systems go for Suncorp on Sunday with the capped crowd of 75% and we’re being advised that that’s not going to change.”

Townsville’s Queensland Country Bank Stadium remains the Plan B option, though one new case of community transmission was announced in the North Queensland city on Thursday has complicated matters. There is the possibility Rabbitohs and Panthers players could fly in and out on game day.

As it stands, the situation has cost almost 13,000 ticket holders their seats, as the crowd is pared back to just under 40,000 instead of the 52,500 Suncorp holds. Those 25% of fans who purchased their tickets last will be granted refunds.

An empty stadium would also cause further revenue losses for the NRL, which has already bore the financial brunt of relocating to the competition at the behest of the pandemic.

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