NRL clubs growing doubtful of May return
The NRL has written to club chief executives reasserting its plans to resume the premiership on May 28 amid fears in clubland that the slow pace of broadcast talks may leave the game with no choice but to alter its stance.
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg sent an email to club chiefs on Thursday afternoon confirming a series of crucial meetings had been delayed until next week, while at the same time insisting a late-May start remained very much a priority.
Yet senior figures in clubland are becoming increasingly concerned as they watch the broadcasting negotiations play out from afar. ARL Commission chair Peter V'landys has kept his cards close to his chest on talks with the Nine Network and Foxtel, respecting their wishes that the discussions be conducted behind closed doors.
V'landys, Nine and Foxtel have refused to even confirm when talks will take place, such is the veil of secrecy that has been placed around the sensitive negotiations.
However, the decision to reschedule a key conference with the clubs and the next meeting of Project Apollo - the committee formed to oversee the game's return - suggests there is an acknowledgment from all sides that it will not be a quick or easy process.
That should come as no surprise given the way the Nine Network has played hardball with the NRL. On Thursday, Nine declined to comment when asked about reports from its own media outlets that its preference was for rugby league not to be played this year and that it was likely to stall talks to ensure the resumed season would be as short as possible.
Senior figures in the NRL have also been kept in the dark about the timing of discussions between V'landys, Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany and Nine boss Hugh Marks. The outcome is crucial. It will shape when the competition resumes and what format it will take.
Clubs are watching on nervously amid fears that the May 28 date for resumption may have been too ambitious, their concern amplified by the ongoing restrictions in Queensland and Victoria, and the ongoing concern surrounding the Warriors and their ability to take part from late May.
They were initially expected to leave New Zealand this weekend but that date has now been pushed back, prompting fears the Warriors players may not be ready to resume along with the other 15 sides.
There is a school of thought that a one-week delay would ease some of the concerns, although V'landys is determined to make May 28 a reality.
He has been on the receiving end of criticism as a result but his predecessor as chair Peter Beattie on Thursday urged fans and officials to back V'landys.
"He is the best thing that has happened to rugby league," said Beattie, who remains a member of the ARL Commission.
"Without him, the game would just be a mess. He is really fighting for the game. I have a lot of time for him.
"He has done a superb job, much better than I could have done. He has fought his heart out to get the game back on the field, but doing it in a sensible way to protect the health and wellbeing of players, as well as the community.
"I think setting a target is the right thing to do. He has been a breath of fresh air for the game."
Beattie also encouraged Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to reserve her judgment on the State of Origin seres until she has the opportunity to speak to V'landys in person.
Palaszczuk suggested this week that Origin may not go ahead this year.
"I am just encouraging Annastacia to keep the door open," Beattie said.
"I an hopeful the premier would speak to Peter at some point. I know she has a lot on her plate but I think the mental wellbeing of our community, particularly in Queensland and NSW, the best thing that can happen to people during this isolation period is a game of football on the television."
Originally published as NRL clubs growing doubtful of May return