NRL: Rugby League Players Association ‘optimistic’ despite ongoing COVID -19 challenges

Jasper BruceNCA NewsWire
John Asiata had been set to join the Bulldogs this season but the unvaccinated forward has instead migrated to England. Image: Jorja Brinums/QRL
Camera IconJohn Asiata had been set to join the Bulldogs this season but the unvaccinated forward has instead migrated to England. Image: Jorja Brinums/QRL Credit: Supplied

The Rugby League Players Association remains “optimistic” that unvaccinated players won’t be lost to the NRL as the league braces itself for impact in the third year of the pandemic.

According to RLPA chief executive and former NRL star Clint Newton, almost 99 per cent of first grade players are vaccinated against COVID-19, but a handful have still refused to have the jab.

The NRL has not imposed a vaccine mandate and neither NSW nor the ACT have implemented “no jab no play” rules for athletes.

However, restrictions introduced by the Victorian government last year mean unvaccinated players from interstate will be locked out, and those from the state won’t be permitted to train at club facilities or play.

Queensland has chosen not to impose a blanket mandate but stadia with a capacity of 5000+ require all attendees, including players, to be vaccinated.

The regulations have cast doubt over the playing futures of the less than 10 players who remain unvaccinated, including 2016 Dally M medallist Jason Taumalolo and Melbourne Storm premiership-winner Nelson Asofa-Solomona.

While Newton said he remained “optimistic” that players would not follow unvaxxed Bulldogs recruit John Asiata out of the NRL, he conceded that there could be challenges to their participation in the 2022 season.

“It’s going to largely depend on state government regulations and also stadia restrictions that are in place,” Newton told SEN.

“Those players that remain unvaccinated, there’s a framework in place for clubs to work through and players are aware of that.

“We’re still optimistic about ensuring that we don’t see any other players exit the NRL.

“We certainly think that would be a real shame for everyone, given the fact that I think we can get through it.

“But I think that is still a work in progress with some of the players.”

Newton said he had been heartened by the willingness of players to roll up their sleeves even without the kind of jab mandate imposed by the AFL.

“The positive thing for the whole game is we’re in single figures (of unvaccinated players),” he said.

“I think one of the key things here is that without a mandate, nearly 99 per cent of players have gotten vaccinated.”

COVID-19 outbreaks are continuing to disrupt pre-seasons across the league but Newton said players who had tested positive were recovering well ahead of the NRL season, which begins on March 10.

“Players are rebounding and they will be available for trials and for the season,” he said.

Newton said playing professional sport in the middle of a pandemic was “not without some risks” though.

“The NRL has developed a return to training and playing mandate, which we’re certainly supportive of, to make sure that we’re monitoring players that have had COVID and making sure they’re returning as safely as possible,” Newton explained.

“There are some challenges but we’re certainly optimistic about the fact that none of the players will be severely impacted to the point where they won’t be able to take the field this year.”

Originally published as NRL: Rugby League Players Association ‘optimistic’ despite ongoing Covid-19 challenges

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