The NRL has confirmed that players who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 will not be able to play or train in Victoria or Queensland.
- The NRL says it will accept new rules putting the home grounds of four clubs in Victoria and Queensland off-limits to unvaccinated players
- Unvaccinated players will be able to train and play in NSW but under strict protocols
- NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo, says 95 per cent of the league’s 450 players have been vaccinated
The Queensland government this morning announced that only double-vaccinated staff and patrons will be able to access government-owned stadiums, including Lang Park, which is the home of the Brisbane Broncos, and was used for this year’s grand final as well as State of Origin matches.
The home grounds of the North Queensland Cowboys and Gold Coast Titans will also be restricted to fully vaccinated players and staff.
The Victorian government has a similar ruling that means unvaccinated players are not able to play at the Melbourne Storm’s home ground, AAMI Park.
The decision means the venues of four NRL clubs will essentially be out of bounds for any unvaccinated players from the 12 other clubs.
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said he was not surprised by the new Queensland public health orders.
“The public health order is you can’t enter the stadium unless you’ve been vaccinated, then those players won’t be able to train and play.”
Abdo said more than 95 per cent of the NRL’s playing group of around 450 were double vaccinated and the number of unvaccinated players was between 20 and 24.
They include the Storm’s Nelson Asofa-Solomona, who recently posted on social media about his opposition to vaccination.
His stance means he will not be able to train or play with the Storm and could lead to the club tearing up his contract, which still has two years to run and is reportedly worth more than $600,000 per season.
By leaving it up to clubs to make decisions about their own vaccination policies, the NRL has decided not to follow the lead of the AFL, which mandated vaccination for players and staff.
The Canberra Raiders are another club with several players who are still refusing to get vaccinated.
Raiders chief executive Don Furner, said the Raiders were not considering terminating contracts for those players, but he said there would come a time next year when they will not be able to fulfil their contractual obligations.
“It’s easier for them if they get vaccinated. They can travel into Queensland and play games, they can travel into Victoria and play, they can have a lot freer airline travel,” he said.
“It’s a lot more difficult for anybody who isn’t going to be vaxxed, so we’ll sit down and explain that to them, and leave the decision with them.”
NRL leaves decisions on unvaxxed players up to clubs
Abdo was asked whether he would back clubs who sacked unvaccinated players, and said ultimately it was a decision for those clubs.
“We obviously don’t want to see players sacked. We want to see everyone vaccinated and if they aren’t vaccinated, we want to see a way in which we can get them playing safely,” he said.
“We always said whilst we haven’t mandated vaccinations; we have been incredibly strong in educating and facilitating as many players as possible getting vaccinated.
“I think it’s important that we adhere to the principle that clubs are autonomous and they run a business.”
He rejected an assertion that the NRL policy was soft because it was refusing to mandate vaccinations.
“Obviously we are now going to have to deal with a very small group on how we deal with them in different jurisdictions and we’re up for that.”
Abdo said the NRL was working on what salary cap relief could be offered to clubs who were forced to sack players.
“It’s complicated and the situation is evolving, so we’ll continue to work on it and there will be some guidance around things like salary cap,” Abdo said.
Brisbane Broncos chief executive Dave Donaghy said all football staff were vaccinated, but that was not the case for the players.
“I think with the players, (it’s) very similar to the community in Queensland,” he said.
“It’s been a little of apathy towards it, just given our community’s situation up here, which has been incredibly well handled.”
He said he was confident all the players would be double vaccinated “by the time the borders open”.
Strict protocols for unvaccinated players in NSW
Unvaccinated players will be allowed to train and play in New South Wales, but under very strict protocols.
Unvaccinated players will not be able to train until December 15 in line with New South Wales public health orders.
Abdo was speaking at the unveiling of the NRL’s 2022 premiership schedule for the men’s and women’s competitions.
The women’s competition will kick off on February 27 with a triple-header involving all six teams, including three new teams: Newcastle, Gold Coast and Parramatta.
The men’s competition begins on March 10 with premiers Penrith playing a home game against Manly.
The Warriors will continue to play in Queensland until round 15 in June, when they will finally return home to New Zealand for the first time since 2019.