The only social distancing will come before and after games. Picture: Matt Taylor
The only social distancing will come before and after games. Picture: Matt Taylor

NRL’s strange world: Fist bump before furious physicality

Rugby league will lead a strange double life this weekend, summed up by the sight of the game's most understated feature ... the common scrum.

If you were framing rugby league rules for the coronavirus era, the dear old scrum would probably be benched.

All those activists who would happily see the scrum banished because of the feeling it adds nothing to the contest will never have a better platform than the next few months.

Because there is so little sport being played around the globe, highlights of this weekend's rugby league round will be beamed across the sporting world.

In the midst of all the obvious contact of a game of immense physical contact, the scrum will have an unusually awkward presence.

 

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Somewhere in the United States a sports fan might see the vision of 12 rugby league players locking arms and sweaty bodies together in a scrum and think "did these guys get the memo ... whatever happened to social distancing of 1.5m? This is the memo in reverse".

But the memo did get through.

Rugby league coaches this week deliberately stood a few metres away from the media, including the Broncos Anthony Seibold, who was taken back to his days as a university lecturer in Toowoomba as he spoke from a safe distance at Broncos training yesterday.

"These are unprecedented times,'' Seibold said.

"We need to be guided by the government, but we all want to keep playing''.

A group of youngsters had hand sanitisers outside the Broncos training facility. Handshakes and hugs were on the "to be avoided'' list.

 

Broncos coach Anthony Seibold. Picture: AAP
Broncos coach Anthony Seibold. Picture: AAP

Yet out in the middle at an empty Suncorp Stadium on Friday night when the Broncos take on the Rabbitohs there will be no holds barred, except at the end of the game when the personal contact is likely to be kept to a minimum.

It is a strange world and it's getting stranger by the day.

"It does a feel a bit ridiculous,'' said Dr Peter Brukner, former head medical man of Cricket Australia.

"You are supposed to social distance and stand 1.5m away from each other, yet you tackle each other or pile on top of each other (in a game of rugby league). It is contradictory in a way, isn't it?

 

Broncos player Kotoni Staggs at training. Picture: AAP
Broncos player Kotoni Staggs at training. Picture: AAP

"The chances of transmission are pretty low but I am not sure whether outside Australia there will be any football happening in the world this weekend.

"It is a very difficult and complicated decision for the sports and I don't envy them. The Prime Minister has said he wants the country to continue functioning, and sport is a very important part of that.

"I can see where sports would have been encouraged by the Prime Minister's words to keep going, yet it's different to what is happening in every other country in the world.

"It is quite bizarre in that players will crawl all over each other for 80 minutes but then might not shake hands.''

 

Originally published as NRL coronavirus: Social distancing out the window as soon as the whistle blows