Coronavirus: Australia suspends National Rugby League

NRL
The NRL had been continuing behind closed doors

Australia's National Rugby League competition has been suspended until at least 1 May, because of growing concerns over coronavirus.

The league had been running behind closed doors, playing all eight round two fixtures over the weekend, before Monday's decision to postpone it.

The 2020 season only began on 12 March.

"It is no longer safe for our players to play," Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V'landys said.

"We were alarmed at how everything changed over the past 24 hours.

"We've left it open and will make further announcements in the future. All options are still on the table but what's paramount is the health of our players.

"It's catastrophic, I don't think we've ever come across a financial crisis like it."

New Zealand Warriors, who had based themselves in Australia to avoid travel issues, will now return to New Zealand.

England internationals such as James Graham, John Bateman, Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead currently play in the NRL.

Europe's Super League competition had already brought a halt to competition last week, and there have been fears expressed as to the financial stability of clubs while there is no matchday revenue.

The NRL clubs enjoy a salary cap more than twice the size of their northern hemisphere counterparts, and their broadcast deal was around £1 billion over five years when it was signed in 2017.

However, the league has no assets and is almost solely reliant on the broadcast money, which in the event of no competition leaves them in a potentially difficult financial position.

Players are likely to be asked to take pay cuts, while V'landys also confirmed the league would likely seek government support as part of the Economic Stimulus package.

"You can't understate it, it's probably the biggest challenge the game will ever face financially," V'landys continued.

"Rugby league will always survive in some way but I can't guarantee it will in the same way. We're ready for the worst."

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg added: "Today is a difficult day for the rugby league community and at head office.

"We've briefed our clubs and all players have been told. We've asked players to not turn up to training tomorrow.

"While I say it's a tough day for the game, I know it's a tough time for everyone across our community."