NRL relocation to Queensland: How does this affect the competition?

NRL relocation to Queensland
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On Wednesday 14th July, all New South Wales teams, plus the Newcastle Knights and the Canberra Raiders, will move to Queensland due to the growing outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia’s most populous state. Each side will be allowed to bring 30 players and 11 staff members and games will be split between the Cbus Super Stadium, Suncorp, or the Sunshine Coast; this will last for at least a month.

Such a huge change to routines at such short notice is clearly going to affect the competition and in some quarters there have been calls for the season to be paused until case numbers fall. NRL CEO Andrew Abdo cited the lack of vaccines as a cause, as well as restrictions (including no crowds currently being admitted) in his announcement on Sunday night. He also refused to rule out the remainder of the rounds being played in a Queensland bubble. Such a unique set of circumstances at a pivotal time in the draw have the potential to bring out the best in sides and the worst in others.

Who Could Benefit?

The Melbourne Storm relocated to the Sunshine Coast at the very start of the pandemic and it would be naive to suggest that the current league leaders do not now have an extra advantage in their attempts to become back-to-back Premiers. The Storm’s closest challengers on the ladder, the Penrith Panthers, remained at the foot of the mountains and relocation to an unfamiliar location could throw their season into disarray. Former Panther Jamie Soward believes the “strong culture” of the young Panthers’ team could allow them to maintain a strong challenge going into the finals, but concedes the Premiership is now “Melbourne’s to lose…they’ve played on the road, they know how to prepare…anytime, anywhere, anyone…(Melbourne) are red hot favourites to win it.” 

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The New Zealand Warriors have been disrupted most, having not played at home in almost two seasons. Despite this, Warriors coach Nathan Brown is backing his side to remain defiant and emulate their strong finish last season, “they’ve moved from another country last year and have moved all over the shop this year a few times already so we can be in a position to train together and be together.” The (formerly) Auckland based side will move once again, from the Central Coast to the Sunshine Coast, but Brown was positive about the character of his players; “They don’t complain, all the boys from New Zealand, honestly…they’ve been terrific.” 

The three Queensland based teams will remain at their home camps and stadia. They’ll look to press on and use home advantage in their favour. However, the recent form of the Broncos (1-3), the Titans (1-3), and the Cowboys (0-4), and the general mood around the camps, doesn’t leave much room for optimism. All three sides currently sit outside the eight but all are within six points of claiming a finals space. Taking into consideration the upheaval of the NSW sides and the resultant lack of disruption for the Queenslanders it is not inconceivable that one or more could make the finals. How this would be received in the Sydney-based media is another matter. 

NRL relocation to Queensland

Who Could Suffer?

Cronulla Sharks half-back Shaun Johnson was informed of the move mid-interview on Sunday Night’s Fox League, and gave a brutally honest assessment “F***…it’s disappointing…it’s gonna be a difficult conversation to go home to my wife.” Reports in the Daily Telegraph (AU) have suggested that Johnson’s teammate Aaron Woods, as well as around a dozen other players in the NRL, are “seriously considering” not travelling to QLD with their sides for various personal and family reasons; Woods’ wife is due to give birth in two weeks.

Souths veteran Benji Marshall, who has a one-month-old child, also has doubts “you have to really think about what’s going to be best for your family…to be honest with you I haven’t actually made a decision about what’s going to be best for us.” Even a comparatively small number of players dropping out or hesitating to the extent that their game is affected would clearly compromise their respective teams as well as the integrity of the competition. As things stand on the ladder both Cronulla and South Sydney will be playing finals football come September. 

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What does this mean for the season?

After a further 77 cases were announced in NSW on Sunday it is hard to argue that the huge logistical move to Queensland is unnecessary. Without it, the remainder of the season would undoubtedly be more balanced and the sides chasing the Storm, all NSW based, would greatly benefit from home advantage, plus a final in its traditional Sydney location. Latest reports suggest that the families of players and staff will be allowed to join the hubs in Queensland, which clearly will positively impact the mood of the travelling sides. However, the cost of this drastic move is reported to be around $13 million per month. In addition to the inarguable imbalance of the move north, it is in the best interests of Peter V’Landys and NRL bosses to work around the COVID crisis and return teams to their home bases as soon as is safe. 

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