The NRL season makes its much-anticipated return this week following the coronavirus-enforced shutdown that stretched back to March.
Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V’landys was ridiculed when he boldly announced the NRL would recommence on May 28, but few are laughing now that the competition is about to resume.
There have been a number of hurdles the ARLC has needed to clear to reach this point and there will no doubt be many more, as it hopes to complete the season by late October.
Here’s the state of play as the NRL prepares to relaunch.
When does the NRL actually restart?
The NRL resumes tomorrow night, with the Broncos playing host to the Parramatta Eels at Brisbane’s Lang Park.
The remaining matches in what will be the third round of the NRL will take place from Friday through to Sunday.
The round will play out as follows:
Where are matches being played?
The ARLC announced there would be six venues used during what it described as “Phase 1” of the competition’s resumption.
They are Western Sydney Stadium in Parramatta, Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney’s west, Central Coast Stadium in Gosford, Brisbane’s Lang Park, North Queensland Stadium in Townsville and Melbourne’s AAMI Park.
All matches across rounds three to nine will be played at these venues, before the ARLC conducts a review ahead of the remainder of the season.
They were chosen because they were best equipped to meet the ARLC’s biosecurity protocols, while geographical and commercial factors were also considered.
The Warriors, who cannot play matches in New Zealand because of border restrictions, will use Central Coast Stadium as their home ground until further notice.
How many rounds are there in the NRL?
The coronavirus shutdown forced the ARLC to shorten the minor premiership from 25 rounds to 20.
As there were two rounds played in March before the suspension of the season, 18 rounds are scheduled from this week until the finals in October.
By the conclusion of the minor premiership, each team will have played each other once, with five additional matches also on their schedule.
What about the NRL grand final?
The grand final will be staged a little later than usual, on October 25 in Sydney, although it may have to be shifted from the SCG because of a potential schedule clash with the men’s T20 World Cup.
The ARLC is hopeful of contesting a four-week finals series.
Week one of the finals will be played from October 2 to 4, before the semi-finals (October 9-10) and preliminary finals (October 16-17) take place ahead of the “big dance”.
Why were the referees upset?
The shutdown of the NRL season has been highlighted by several controversies, including the league’s decision to reduce the number of on-field referees from two to one.
The union representing NRL referees, the Professional Rugby League Match Officials (PRLMO), lodged a dispute notice with the Fair Work Commission in response to the NRL’s move.
But arbitration was avoided when the ARLC and the PRLMO reached a resolution last week.
“It was heartwarming to see their (referees’) desire that nothing stands in the way of the 28th May commencement of our great game and they want to be an integral part of its success,” V’landys said in a statement.
Is State of Origin still going ahead?
State of Origin is a huge earner for the NRL, so there was no surprise the ARLC found room to squeeze a three-match series into its tight schedule.
Now that the traditional mid-year window for Origin has been ruled out, the series will be contested in November across three consecutive weeks at venues yet to be decided.
The opening match will take place on Wednesday, November 4, before Origin II and III are played on November 11 and 18 respectively.
The annual women’s State of Origin fixture will be played on November 13.