V’landys says ‘next 48 hours crucial’ in deciding fate of Magic Round

ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys insists the next 48 hours will be crucial in deciding whether Magic Round will proceed with the NRL’s biosecurity expert confident the eight-game extravaganza can survive despite Sydney’s latest COVID outbreak.

The NRL were locked in discussions with the Queensland government on Thursday about the three-day football festival where all matches will be played at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium next weekend, with a fly-in, fly-out option the most likely scenario for it to proceed.

The Eels-Warriors encounter is one of the Magic Round fixtures in doubt. Credit:NRL Photos

“The next 48 hours are crucial,” V’landys said. “We’re confident in the NSW government’s tracing ability. One thing you learn from COVID is that anything can happen so we’re prepared for all contingencies.

“We’re still confident [Magic Round] will be fine and we’ve certainly had discussions with government, but if there’s an outbreak tomorrow that changes everything. We’ve just got to wait and see.”

Roosters players and staff were ordered to be tested on Thursday after a man was confirmed as positive to the coronavirus attended the Azure Cafe at the Entertainment Quarter in Moore Park on Monday.

The cafe is a popular gathering point of Roosters and Sydney Swans players given its proximity to their headquarters, but Trent Robinson sent his players home early on Monday.

“The next 48 hours are crucial. We’re confident in the NSW government’s tracing ability.”

Associate professor David Heslop, who sits on the NRL’s Project Apollo committee and has helped steer the game through the pandemic, backed V’landys in his assertion Magic Round will go ahead as planned.

“Absolutely, yes,” Heslop said. “We’re currently confident and we’re working with the respective governments to make sure that happens. We’re focusing on taking appropriate action to protect the players and the competition, that’s what we’re now doing.”

There are fears that travel from eastern suburbs hotspots to Queensland could be impacted if more cases of community transmission are detected.

Heslop said the situation should become clearer as more information came to hand, but options included a fly-in, fly-out scenario, transporting players from Brisbane hotels straight to their games, or potentially setting up a secure training base if they travelled to Queensland early.

“It’s a possibility, but we can’t be sure until we see which direction these cases are heading in,” he said. “Ideally it will be fly-in, fly-out, but if we get the opportunity to move them early, we’ll be arranging training for them if possible.”

The NSW Government announced tighter restrictions on Thursday including the compulsory wearing of masks in indoor areas and restricting household gatherings to 20 people.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo hoped the protocols would be “a short-term measure to protect the competition”.

“These are strong measures to ensure our players remain healthy and the competition can proceed without interruption,” he said. “We are hopeful level three restrictions will only be implemented for a short time, but it is important to take this step as a safeguard measure, particularly with all clubs travelling to Brisbane next week.

“The restrictions we have put in place also reduces the risk of a player attending a venue which may lead them to being identified as a close or casual contact.”

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