ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys is confident the major hurdles to the NRL’s competition restart will be cleared within the next week including a broadcast deal, draw and final rule changes.
Finishing touches are being placed on negotiations with Channel Nine and Foxtel, which is expected to involve a four-year extension of the deal to lock in the broadcast partners until the end of 2026.
Finalisation of the broadcast deal will also allow the new draw to be announced with the competition to restart on May 28.
On Sunday night V’landys told AAP the ARLC will this week approve a proposal from Project Apollo to reduce the number of referees per game from two to one to save costs.
He is also confident the Queensland Government will accept the NRL’s biosecurity guidelines, which allow players to sign a waiver to refuse the flu shot.
This would clear Gold Coast Titans duo Bryce Cartwright and Brian Kelly to return to training next week after they were stood down by the Queensland government under a ‘no jab, no play’ policy.
“I guess where this has gone off the rails a little bit is everyone is looking at one or two per cent of players and 98 per cent of the players went and got vaccinated conscientiously,” V’landys said.
“If you look at the general community there’s probably one or two per cent of people who wouldn’t be vaccinated.
“Rugby league is part of the community and it’s no different, there’s always going to be some people that are going to have a different ideology.
V’landys said players who refused the vaccination only pose a health risk to themselves and not to the community given contracting the flu and coronavirus at the same time is potentially deadly.
As of Sunday afternoon, the Titans were still waiting to hear from Cartwright and Kelly over whether they would agree to be vaccinated.
Neither will be allowed back into the bubble until they have had the injection, and both have been given information resources to consider.
Until the Queensland government is satisfied with the NRL’s waiver, questions will continue to be raised over whether players who have not been vaccinated will be allowed to play in the state.
This could potentially impact the NRL draw which is yet to be finalised.
A final copy of the biosecurity guidelines was sent to all NRL clubs, the RLPA and governments last Sunday for approval which included a waiver for the flu vaccination for players who objected to the shot for a variety of reasons.
However, it is unknown whether the Queensland government received the final copy or simply overlooked the updated version.
It is believed up to 20 NRL players have so far refused to be vaccinated – objecting on the grounds of past adverse reactions, anti-vax beliefs or religious reasons.
Canberra players Josh Papalii, Joseph Tapine and Sia Soliola as well as Manly’s Dylan Walker have also objected to the jab.
However, the NRL is not expecting any objection to the flu vaccination waiver from other state governments.
V’Landys has told News Corp that his aim is to reach an agreement on a seven-year deal with Nine and Foxtel by Friday.
The revamped contract would cover the remaining three years of the NRL’s existing deal – which is $1.8 billion for 2018-2022 – plus a four-season extension until the end of 2026.
“Both partners have acted in great faith and I believe we’re very close… The loyalty factor has been important because you want to look after your partners who have been with the game for a long time,” V’landys said.
The renegotiated deal would secure the NRL’s long-term financial viability and should guarantee the future of all 16 clubs, amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis.
The annual payments would include a discounted rate for 2020 due to the shortened 20-round regular-season campaign, which is planned to restart without fans on May 28.
The developments are a huge boost for the NRL after Nine CEO Hugh Marks recently declared it wasn’t a “given” that rugby league was a part of the network’s future.
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