Valentine Holmes. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Valentine Holmes. Picture: Alix Sweeney

Disaster brewing for NRL stadium debut

The NRL is considering taking games behind closed doors and locking out crowds in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The governing body has set up a coronavirus subcommittee that is exploring all options and ramifications for the NRL and clubs if games are to be played in empty stadiums, or if the season is to be postponed.

The NRL will hold a meeting in Sydney on Friday and will take advice from federal and state governments.

"Peter V'landys says ARL Commission is on standby to address the coronavirus," Brent Read tweeted.

"The NRL says they will do everything in their power to avoid cancelling of games, even if it means playing in empty stadiums. Admits financial damage could be measure in tens of millions."

It could have immediate ramifications on North Queensland's opening match at their new stadium.

The Cowboys are set to open their NRL season against Brisbane on Friday night at their brand new stadium in Townsville - a game that is expected to attract more than 20,000 fans.

"NRL and QLD State government are meeting in Townsville," Chris Garry tweeted. "When that meeting finishes there will be an announcement, likelihood is games tonight to go ahead without crowds. Then shutdown from next week. Fans in Townsville will be furious if locked out."

How Townsville’s stands could look tonight.
How Townsville’s stands could look tonight.

Canberra will play the next NRL game at GIO Stadium against the Gold Coast at 6pm and originally expected a crowd of around 15,000 - although that number has taken a hit in the past 24 hours.

With gates set to open at 4.30pm, the club is already feeling increased pressure to communicate a decision to fans.

Souths coach Wayne Bennett, whose team hosts the Sharks on Saturday, said he would be happy to play matches behind closed doors.

"I don't think we need to play in front of crowds. We train pretty hard and we never get a crowd at training," he said.

"I know players well enough to know they are all competitive. If you tell them that no one is going to be there but it is going to be televised live throughout Australia then they will do their job.

"Crowds are important and they create atmosphere and all of that but it is a difficult time at the moment so if the decision is made to play without crowds then at home you'd still get the footy and I'm sure Channel 9 and Fox won't lose any viewers over it."

Parramatta and Canterbury played the opening game of the NRL season at Bankwest Stadium on Thursday night in front of a crowd of 21,363.

Before the game, the NRL announced health and safety measures for players and staff to prevent further spread of coronavirus.

Players were advised to minimise handshakes and physical interactions with fans, while clubs were encouraged to minimise player contact with community organisations.

Restrictions were also placed on entry into dressing rooms.