Rugby league faces "considerably longer" lay-off

Rugby league will not be returning on April 3 - and is set to be shut down for “considerably longer” than that, its governing bodies have confirmed.

Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 7:00 pm
Robert Elstone. Picture by Tony Johnson.

The coronavirus pandemic led to the sport being suspended at all levels nine days ago, initially for a three-week period.

Since then, the government has issued strict instructions designed to keep people at home in an attempt to prevent the virus spreading.

Super League clubs met by conference call on Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a ban on gatherings of more than two people, closure of most businesses and restrictions on all but essential travel.

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Ralph Rimmer. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

That effectively ended any faint hopes of season resuming at the start of next month, even behind closed doors.

The Rugby Football League [RFL] was represented at the meeting and its chief executive Ralph Rimmer issued a joint-statement, along with Super League executive chairman Robert Elstone, which avoided setting any date for a possible resumption.

It said: “With the country having taken such unprecedented measures, the primary focus and priority for all has to be the public health emergency – an approach that is equally applicable for our overseas clubs.

“Rugby league clubs are deeply embedded in their communities and we are committed as a sport to following government advice and doing all we can to promote the importance of physical and mental health – for our supporters, players and colleagues.

“In line with the approach announced by the UK government [on Monday night], we will regularly review the situation regarding the possibility of resuming fixtures and remain as flexible as possible, in consultation with other partners and with the key considerations of financial sustainability and player welfare.”

Rimmer added: “We will also be updating other sections of the game with the latest thinking regarding the suspension of the season, as the sensible approach is clearly to continue working on various scenarios while acknowledging the suspension is going to be considerably longer than the three-week period we had initially confirmed.

“The key for the sport is to continue acting in a collegiate, united and positive way.”

Elstone said Super League and its clubs are “working round the clock to prepare ourselves for the challenges ahead and to ensure the sport is in the best possible place for when life returns to normal”.

He insisted: “Our priorities are the health of our players and staff and the economic well-being of our clubs.

“We welcome the government’s proposals to help businesses and in partnership with the RFL we are exploring all the options available to us.

“We are also keeping close to all our partners and, in particular, offering all our support to Sky Sports.”

He added: “Most of all, we are sticking together and looking out for the health of our families, friends and colleagues.

“Our sport has enviable values that stem from the behaviours and attitudes of all of us.

“These will be essential to emerging strong at some point in the near future.

“On behalf of all Super League clubs, we thank you for your loyalty and continued support.”

Australia’s NRL continued behind closed doors last weekend, but was then suspended.

With speculation mounting that both competitions could be extended into at least November, this autumn’s Ashes series is now under extreme threat.

The longer layoff also raises question marks over this year’s Coral Challenge Cup.

The sixth round was due to be played on the weekend beginning April 3, with a final at Wembley in July.