Coronavirus: Sports Minister Grant Robertson cautious over 'ambitious' NRL restart plan

Sports Minister Grant Robertson has cautioned the NRL and NZ Warriors over a plan to resume the Australian rugby league competition next month, amid the coronavirus crisis.

Last month, the season was suspended after round two, when Australian state governments began closing their borders under lockdown protocol, with the Warriors returning home from their temporary base near the New South Wales-Queensland border.

But the NRL is forging ahead with a plan to restart the competition as early as May 28, insisting the Warriors will be allowed to return for a condensed campaign.  

At the daily COVID-19 briefing, Robertson has cast some doubt over that plan, describing the proposal as "very ambitious".

"Personally, I haven't been involved in discussions about that," he says. "I believe there may have been some high-level discussions between people working on behalf of the NRL and Sport NZ.

"That sounds like a very ambitious date to me to start a competition up. No doubt there's a lot to work through on both sides of the Tasman about how that would work."

Robertson warns both governments had strict quarantine arrangements in place, severely restricting travel movements from one country to the other.

The NRL plan has yet to be finalised, but seems to involve basing all teams in New South Wales, possibly forming their own 'bubble' and playing at the same venue, primarily to provide TV content, which generates the competition's biggest income.

To fulfill quarantine requirements and complete a comprehensive 'pre-season' build-up, the Warriors would need to leave Auckland this weekend, but they're still waiting for details of the plan from NRL officials, including whether families can accompany them.

"I did hear yesterday that the other NRL clubs wanted to make sure the Warriors had an opportunity to undertake pre-season training once they got to Australia," says Robertson.

"If you think about that in terms of the timeline, it's pretty ambitious.

Robertson has dodged the question of whether the Warriors required special dispensation to travel overseas during lockdown, but emphasizes the Government's rule of thumb over coronavirus activities. 

"Overall, the principle we continue to have to apply is public health and safety," he says. "That applies as much to professional sportspeople as it does to anyone else.