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Rugby league dynasties: Canterbury Bulldogs

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Major League Baseball is planning to start its 2020 season with a similar idea to the one the NRL is considering to play on despite the coronavirus pandemic.

According to reports from the US, the MLB is looking at moving its entire competition to a single location in Arizona.

Games would be played in empty stadiums in the south-western state with players and team personnel quarantined in a protective bubble.

The AFL has sent a memo to clubs to inform them that the league hopes to have a return-to-play plan finalised by the end of the month. 

A likely scenario for the AFL is hubs in locations around Australia where players and team officials will be isolated so they can train and play games behind closed doors.

An NRL spokesman said the league was monitoring what other sporting bodies were considering with their plans to get their competitions back up and running.

The NRL innovations committee is looking at options involving conferences and setting up "bubble" environments in locations such as Sydney's Olympic precinct and South-East Queensland.

The Panthers have cheekily suggested they can house NRL teams at their base in Penrith following a report in the Sydney Morning Herald that they could be a potential location.

UFC officials are also looking at ways to get their fights back up and running with its commissioner, Dana White, claiming they will have a private island for their sport.

White told TMZ Sports that he planned to stage UFC 249 at the as yet undisclosed island as early as April 18.

Ladder reset idea set to be shelved

After floating the option of resetting the Telstra Premiership ladder, ARL Commissioner Wayne Pearce said it is set to be scrubbed from the long list of ideas being considered by the Innovations Committee.

The committee, which will next meet on Thursday, was considering the step as part of its mandate to look at ways to reschedule the season following last month's decision to suspend the competition due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pearce, who is heading up the committee, told the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday night that they would consider scrapping the competition points earned over the first two rounds of the season.

Rugby league dynasties: Parramatta Eels

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However, on Tuesday morning he said on Fox League that he would be against bringing in the controversial move.

"My personal view is when we get the competition up and running again we should carry the results from the opening two rounds," Pearce said.

"Players have worked extremely hard all off-season and clubs have lost players to injuries in those opening two games."

The theoretical resetting of the ladder would potentially have been an option as the rescheduled competition is likely to be split into two equal conferences of eight.

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Under that scenario, teams would only play against the other sides in their conference as clubs would operate in a "bubble" environment to protect players and staff from contracting the virus.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson, Raiders CEO Don Furner, RLPA CEO Clint Newton, former politician Troy Grant, NRL chief commercial officer Andrew Abdo, NRL chief corporate affairs officer Liz Deegan and NRL head of football Graham Annesley are also on the committee.

Parramatta, Newcastle, Brisbane, Canberra, Penrith and Melbourne kicked off their campaigns with back-to-back victories while the Roosters began their quest for a threepeat with successive losses, while Cronulla, Canterbury, the Warriors, Titans and St George Illawarra are also winless. 

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Walters against restarting with Origin

Kevin Walters wants the State of Origin series to be factored into the middle of the NRL's rescheduled draw or at the end rather than potentially be used to relaunch the season.

The Queensland coach would like to see Origin played when fans are able to attend matches

"I believe Origin's best position is somewhere in mid-competition or possibly at the end," Walters he told Sky Sports Radio.

"If you put it at the end of the competition surely by then the fans would be back in their droves.

"For mine that is what really drives Origin, it's the fans, their passion."

Walters rejected an idea thrown up by Blues rival Brad Fittler that players of Pacific Island heritage, such as North Queensland's Tongan international Jason Taumalolo, should be allowed to be eligible for Origin selection.

He said a few young forwards who are surging into the Queensland selection frame, naming Canberra prop Corey Horsburgh and Broncos duo Patrick Carrigan and Thomas Flegler as emerging candidates.

Titans switch to skeleton staff

Gold Coast have announced they have stood down employees and will operate on skeleton staff on half pay "to keep the business functioning until the NRL season and normal business trading resume later in the year".

The Titans have also said they will access the Australian Government’s Job Seeker wage subsidies and the Queensland Government’s payroll tax concessions to support staff temporarily stood down during the COVID-19 pandemic and suspension of the Telstra Premiership.

Titans CEO Steve Mitchell said the move was critical to ensuring the club would be ready to resume full-time operations when the season restarted.

"Today is a difficult day in a lot of respects, but these decisions have been made to minimise the impact on our passionate and hard-working staff, and to bring further surety to the Titans as the NRL and the nation navigate these uncharted waters," Mitchell said.

"The club’s owners and board have delayed making this decision until all of the options were explored, and implications analysed.

“And while a stand-down period is painful, it is also temporary. We look forward to "all of our staff reuniting to continue the NRL season in the near future."

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Robbo: Time to try new ideas

Trent Robinson believes the time is right for the NRL to innovate to recapture the public's imagination when the competition likely restarts with a shortened season.

The Roosters coach is a member of the NRL's new innovations committee headed up by ARL Commissioner Wayne Peace.

He believes the challenge for the NRL is to hold true to its values of the 80-minute contest between 13 players but also bring in new features such as conferences to safely operate in the current climate brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. 

"If we're going to get this competition on, it's going to be a shortened season. Let's experiment with stuff that we would never do, that we would never actually try," Robinson told Fox League on Sunday night. 

"Let's offer a great product. Let's get out there on the world stage and offer the game of rugby league.

"Let's get this game back on as safely as possible and let's experiment with conferences. Let's work out how the game looks. We're going to have to go into bubbles anyway to do that.

"So how can we ignite some of the things we've talked about for probably two decades, the conference system?

"How do we light up people's interest in the competition again in a different way but still 80 minutes of 13 on 13?"

Greenberg: Costs must come down everywhere

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg has warned clubs they cannot expect further bailouts if they run into financial difficulties while also foreshadowing cuts at head office.

Greenberg defended the NRL's financial record over recent years in a News Corp report but also said Rugby League Central and all the clubs would need to tighten their belts in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic causing the Telstra Premiership to be suspended.

"You have to spend money to make money, but obviously we’ll have to be more focused about costs in future across the whole business," he said.

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"Every single part of the game — football, welfare, integrity, admin, development, clubs and states. We’re all going to have to reset the cost base. NRL HQ, footy departments in clubs, and the players. Everyone.

"That’s what we’re working towards. We’ve got some hard decisions to make."

Greenberg is adamant all clubs can survive this crisis but warned them to make smart decisions as ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys has made it clear to them they will receive no more extra distributions to keep them afloat.

Glenn keeps tabs on Broncos

Brisbane's squad is isolating like most of the community but the players are determined to remain connected as they hope for a restart to their 2020 NRL campaign.

Broncos captain Alex Glenn said the team had vowed to maintain the bond they had worked on across the pre-season and led them to start the year with two strong wins against the Cowboys and Rabbitohs.

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“We looked at the way we started our season with two wins … so we were devastated for the season to get shutdown,” Glenn said.

“But one thing as a playing group that we wanted to focus on was making sure that we are staying connected in these times.

“We’re constantly keeing in contact on WhatsApp and social media … and making sure that we are all doing a bit of exercise, not just to keep fit but to keep our mental state of health."

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Fittler sure Blues will be ready to go

NSW coach Brad Fittler is confident the camaraderie and spirit the players have built in winning the past two State of Origin series will help them overcome any hurdles that are thrown at them for this year’s series.

With NRL officials hopeful they will be able to resume playing at some stage in 2020, the three-game Origin series is likely to be played outside of its traditional window midway through the season, potentially as late as October or November.

Fittler, who took over the reins as coach in 2018, is confident the work the coaching staff has put in to bring the squad closer together, including a Junior Rugby League clinic in Armidale, a visit to bushfire-affected Taree and the past two series wins, will help overcome any disruptions.

"I feel like the players have done enough over the past couple of years to convince me they’ll be doing everything to get back to their clubs and do whatever they can and the rest looks after itself," Fittler told nswrl.com.au.

"You’ve already seen that pay off just the way they act in public. I feel like there’s a connection now. We’ve just got to be ready."

Fittler has maintained contact with the squad through a WhatsApp group.

He has been impressed with the work they have been doing behind the scenes to help fans deal with the coronavirus crisis, including filming videos in response to junior rugby league fans who have asked for coaching tips from their favourite players.

Last time they met: Knights v Cowboys - Round 22, 2019

Daley floats unlimited interchange idea

Hall of Fame five-eighth Laurie Daley has a simple message for today's players - be prepared. And he also thinks unlimited interchange could be an option if the NRL returns later this year.

The former Raiders, Blues and Kangaroos star said he initially thought players would need a four-week mini pre-season before they were fit for matches when the Telstra Premiership comes out of hiatus.

But now he believes they should be good to go even if they had a shorter time frame to get prepared.

"I first thought they would need a month but now it is when the flag drops, you need to be ready to go," he said on Sky Sports Radio on Thursday.

"If that means allowing 20-man squads for the first couple of weeks or unlimited interchanges, we need to do it.

"I just think we can't afford to waste any time once we get that green light to play."

Radley jolted from 'fairyland'

Rising Roosters star Victor Radley says the coronavirus pandemic has given him a reality check on his spending and post-footy career as he jumps back on the tools.

Radley has returned to the carpentry trade he pursued during his formative rugby league years, with Kangaroos playmaker Luke Keary joining him and his dad on job sites during the NRL competition's hiatus.

After winning back-to-back titles before he'd turned 22 and looming as a regular rep player of the future, Radley has the NRL world at his feet.

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But he concedes the impact of COVID-19 on the game is a wake-up call for himself and plenty of others across the game.

"The last three years I've kind of being in a fairyland and something like this has rocked myself and a lot of players back into realisation," Radley told Triple M on Wednesday evening.

"It’s made it a bit different for the rest of my future. I think I’m going to make sure I’ve got stuff after footy really set up and I want to be a bit better with my money.

"I’ve just been spending my money on anything so it’ll be good to take me out of fairyland a bit."

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All ideas on the table

ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys has confirmed a three-game grand final series is one of the many options being considered for the revised NRL calendar.

V’landys said in a News Corp report the option was a discussion point for the league as it tries to find ways to make up for the delay in the season from last week's decision to suspend the Telstra Premiership due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

"It’s an option that will be considered," he told The Courier Mail.

Under such a proposal, the grand final series could be played at three venues in Sydney, Brisbane and potentially Townsville's new Queensland Country Bank Stadium if a decider was needed.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson was not sure if a three-game decider was the way to go.

"Best of three. I'd say we'll be strapped for time," Robinson told SEN Radio.

"I would be giving the opportunity, if it's a shortened competition, for the top eight and for teams to get the opportunity to play finals footy, to get finals coffers filled for more clubs.

"I think [the grand final series concept] would really benefit the AFL or the NRL and also the two teams, but we need to support the whole competition.

"I think the more finals games we play, making sure we play a top eight, would make sure we get as many teams more financial as possible by the end of the year."

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Tigers stand down majority of club

Wests Tigers are the latest NRL club to stand down football and administration staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

CEO Justin Pascoe said the stand-down period would remain indefinitely and had been reluctantly introduced to ensure the club remains viable.

“As a club, we have today made the tough decision to stand down the majority of our staff — good people who have worked tirelessly to ensure Wests Tigers is what it is today — and that is not an easy decision to make," Pascoe said via a club statement.

“As tough as these decisions are, they are done to ensure that Wests Tigers remains intact and can come out the other side of this crisis stronger for it."

Wildcard weekend back on agenda

The "wildcard weekend" idea is a possibility of returning to the NRL landscape due to the complexities of trying to finish the season due to the delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The ARL Commission has instituted a committee to look into ways the season can condense its calendar into the latter parts of the year and one of the options under consideration is the wildcard weekend format for the finals.

Under the system, the teams that finish in the top six would advance directly to the finals with the seventh-placed side meeting the 10th-ranked outfit and clubs eight and nine also battling it out in elimination matches to determine the final two spots in the top eight.

With the first two rounds of the season already done and dusted before the competition was forced into a hiatus, the NRL is hopeful of at least playing 13 more regular-season matches so that each team plays every opponent once.

The wildcard weekend idea was raised as a potential option last year but was put on the backburner after receiving a mixed response from fans and the clubs.

Parra boss clarify's Arthur's role

Eels chairman Sean McElduff has move to clarify any confusion over Brad Arthur's position after the coach and most of the football department were stood down last week.

McElduff has penned an open letter to Parramatta supporters, reassuring fans that the measures they're taking are designed to ensure the club's long-term viability.

"To avoid any confusion, I wanted to clarify Brad’s situation during this period," he wrote.

"Brad has been stood down along with the vast majority of our football department staff but like others, he will be taking his annual leave entitlement but deferring his long service leave entitlement.

"Like so many in our club [staff and players], Brad is also making a large sacrifice because he has offered to continue to work during his leave period to ensure that our players are well prepared when they return. This approach was discussed and agreed with Brad and is the best way to manage our business during this period."

McElduff said the club was facing challenges on several fronts, "not least the wellbeing of our players and staff".

He was confident the club would be in sound shape to be "hitting the ground running when the competition starts again".

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NRL announces funding package

The NRL is delivering a $40 million rescue package to the 16 Telstra Premiership clubs to help them cope with the financial impact of the global coronavirus pandemic.

After the ARL Commission met on Monday morning, chairman Peter V'landys and NRL CEO Todd Greenberg held a phone hook-up with the clubs, announcing each team would receive $2.5 million to help get them through this unprecedented period where the competition has been suspended.

Details of the recovery plan include:

  • The NRL will pay a total of $40 million in monthly grant payments to the clubs between April and October to cover their ongoing operational costs. This is an increase of $6.4m of funding compared to the 2020 budget;
  • The NRL will reduce its operating costs by 53%, including a 95% reduction in staffing levels during the shutdown period and a 25% cut in executive salaries.

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'Most difficult week' in Storm history

Storm CEO Dave Donaghy has posted a message to their fans on the Melbourne website, describing the past seven days as "the most difficult in the club's history".

Donaghy said the club was finding a way to "navigate through this challenging period" brought about by the Telstra Premiership being suspended earlier this week due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Storm’s current chairman, Bart Campbell, incoming chairman Matt Tripp, and Donaghy addressed all staff – administration and football - on Friday afternoon via teleconference during which they announced changes to the operations of the club.

"This past week has been the most difficult in the club’s history," Donaghy said.

"We have spent a considerable amount of time finding a way to preserve as many staff as possible and stripping our operational costs to save our club.

"Regrettably, Storm has had to stand down a third of all staff from our football and administration departments and asked those remaining to take a 50% pay cut, effective immediately.

"Of those remaining on half pay, some will work full-time and others part time to keep the club progressing through this period."

Melbourne's board has directed that positions will be kept open with a view of them returning to work "when normality resumes".

Titans go back to day one

Gold Coast are also trying make the best of a bad situation for Titans fans craving their footy fix. They will be replaying their first game in the NRL on their website on Sunday afternoon.

Broncos close doors until further notice

Brisbane have announced their headquarters closed on Friday and won't reopen until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Broncos issued a statement to say "On the advice of the health authorities and government, the Clive Berghofer Centre and Brisbane Broncos administration will be closed ... The club is awaiting direction from the NRL and Government heads to determine a time when the competition can recommence".

Last time they met: Titans v Broncos - Round 19, 2019

Morris tells Sharks to stay in top shape

Sharks coach John Morris said Bronson Xerri (shoulder) and Josh Dugan (knee) would have been right to go if round three went ahead while he was confident Matt Moylan will be over his nagging hamstring problems when the Telstra Premiership does eventually restart.

Morris told Sharks TV that their team was aiming to maintain their fitness levels despite players having to take equipment from the club's gym so they can work out during self-isolation.

"It's hit everyone pretty hard, not just here at the Sharks," he said.

"I just hope we can all stick together and this passes relatively quickly.

"If we can just maintain their level of fitness it will be a real win for us.

"I've challenged them all to come back with a new skill. They'll all stay connected and look out for each other and hopefully try and stay positive.

"I think we can jump back into it quickly whenever we're given the green light."

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Magic Round won't go ahead

The NRL has cancelled Magic Round in Brisbane due to the COVID-19 public health crisis.  

With the health situation continuing to worsen and advice from government health officials and biosecurity experts that the current lockdown measures including travel restrictions to Queensland, and restrictions on mass gatherings are to continue for an extended period, the NRL said it had no option but to cancel Magic Round Brisbane in 2020. 

NRL chief commercial officer Andrew Abdo said the event would return in 2021. 

"These are challenging times for our community and our game, but we had to take this action as there was simply no other option," Abdo said. 

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"We have always said we would continue but only as long as it was safe to do so for our players, staff and the wider rugby league community. 

"We appreciate this will be disappointing for many people, but the NRL can assure fans that Magic Round Brisbane will return in 2021, bigger and better than ever."

Fans who have already purchased tickets or hospitality packages will be contacted directly by the NRL or Ticketek within the next week regarding how to obtain refunds.

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Players dig deep for Warriors staff

The Warriors' leadership group has shown tremendous generosity by offering to pay money to the club to help staff keep their job during the competition's hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a stuff.co.nz report, senior players Blake Green, captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tohu Harris and Adam Blair approached team officials on Wednesday to say they would reach into their own wallets to help the club's cause.

The team has a players' fund that they put money into each month for team lunches and activities so the leadership group elected to put more money into that kitty this month and donate it to the club. 

Warriors CEO Cameron George was full of praise for the players, saying it was a prime example of the strong culture that has been instilled in the club by the senior players and coach Stephen Kearney.

The Warriors gained the admiration of the rest of the NRL recently when they elected to remain in Australia after their first game and transfer their round-two clash to the Gold Coast after the Australian and New Zealand governments introduced stricter travel restrictions while they were on a road trip to Newcastle.

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Tigers to play Dogs on Sunday, sort of

The Wests Tigers are the first club to get creative ahead of what would've been round three of the Telstra Premiership with a battle between against Bulldogs in Fortnite being staged on Sunday.

Live-streamed via the club's Facebook page at 4.05pm (the time they would've kicked off at Campbelltown Stadium), the match is set to feature two players from each NRL club.

It's understood the Wests Tigers are eager to explore future match-ups against clubs in line with their NRL draw, with the Warriors, Eels and Panthers a possibility over the next month. 

Meanwhile, Wests Tigers forward Josh Aloiai felt the force of a sledge from teammate Josh Reynolds after setting up a gym circuit in his garage after players were told to train from their homes from Tuesday. 

Big League on pause

The official NRL magazine, Big League, will suspend its publication indefinitely until the competition hiatus is declared over.

Big League magazine editor Maria Tsialis said the small editorial team were in good spirits.

"It's not the way we obviously wanted to celebrate our 100th year of publication," Tsialis told NRL.com.

"But when you consider our run … we have only ever not gone to print during the Super League split and even before that something like the world wars

"We're confident the company and NRL are behind us and we'll be back. Hopefully it will go for a few more years to come and we'll be ready for when the NRL is ready to go again."

Tsialis said the magazine's staff would take annual or unpaid leave before returning soon.

"We'll take a couple of weeks off now but will then start getting onto our social media platforms and create a bit of discussion online and possibly even give away a few prizes down the track," she said.

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Wade floats Origin idea

Cronulla skipper Wade Graham has floated the idea of playing State of Origin to launch the return of the NRL competition should it again be safe for players to take the field in 2020.

On Tuesday the NRL laid out multiple schedule possibilities to clubs after games were called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, with potential start times ranging from June to September.

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As the jewel in rugby league's crown, State of Origin is also viewed as priority in any NRL return to play, with state coaches Brad Fittler and Kevin Walters both happy to play the series in the middle of summer if need be.

Graham meanwhile is considering a different tack, proposing the Origin series could act as a precursor to any competition return, bringing the game back using its elite representative product.

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"I think we should have Origin back in when we get that first weekend back in with the crowds to kick it back off," Graham told Fox League.

"I think all ideas need to be explored.

"When we get more clarity on when the season may be able to continue, we need to put everything on the table to try and get the footy going and get the revenue back in the game."

Panthers gear up for isolation training

Shaun shores up home gym

With home training and self-isolation in store for around 450 players across the game, clubs are preparing their stars for potentially months of separation from their teammates.

The likes of Melbourne, Penrith and Cronulla have all given their players extended breaks from team training, with the Sharks playing group called into the club's old Pointsbet Stadium facilities on Tuesday before taking a six-week hiatus.

Players each took home some form of equipment from the club's gym to keep them going while the competition is suspended, among them star five-eighth Shaun Johnson spotted loading an exercise bike into the back of his ute.

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Mini pre-season option

This is one pre-season the NRL players will be happy to go through.

If the NRL is able to restart the Telstra Premiership later this year, CEO Todd Greenberg has indicated the players will go through "some form of mini pre-season" to get back in shape for the resumption of play.

"What we’re looking at is, if we can get ourselves to a point where we know that there’s a start date again, we will have to establish a period before that with some form of a mini pre-season,” Greenberg said on Nine's 100% Footy on Monday night.

"We’re going to have to work on that with the RLPA and all our clubs.

"If the players go into a break, we’re going to have to reset the preparation for the next part of the season."

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Bellamy: Everyone willing to play until end of year

"Hopefully the NRL can see their way clear to have some sort of competition towards the middle of the year, towards the end of the year," he said.

"The clubs and the players are willing to play up until December. Hopefully we'll get some sort of footy in."

JT calls for unity

Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston is fearful for the future of rugby league amid the global coronavirus pandemic and has called on everyone to rally together in this difficult time.

Speaking on Nine's 100% Footy on Monday night, the former Maroons and Kangaroos star said the community needed to remain united in this unprecedented time.

"No one's been through this as a society, as a game. The thought of clubs collapsing is a scary thought. What we have to do is get through it together, it’s the only thing we can do," he said.

"It’s a scary situation. 

"It’s a strange feeling for a lot of the people out there. We just need to look out for each other and get each other through this difficult time we’re facing."

NRL suspends season in wake of COVID-19 outbreak

Seibold: Player safety paramount

Broncos coach Anthony Seibold was one of the first coaches to respond to the news and indicated what the next steps may be in the coming days for all clubs and players. 

"The health and safety of our players and staff and the wider community is the priority at the moment, so we’ll abide by the decision and we’ll get briefed over the next few days on what the competition might look like next," Seibold said. 

"We’ll brief the players after we get information on the possible contingencies from the NRL, when the competition may start again – we’ve got some plans in place that will keep the group working towards our performances in the back end of the year, or whenever the competition restarts.

"On behalf of the Broncos we really appreciate all the members and our supporters, and wider rugby league supporters, for their support in what has been a really challenging period for not just people in rugby league but in the wider community in some unprecedented time.

"Hopefully over the first two weeks of the competition we helped put some smiles on Broncos members' and supporters' faces and stick by us and know that we will be well planned so that when the competition gets underway again, we will be ready to play."

Milford: We all need to stick together

Stuart confident code will bounce back

Canberra coach Ricky Stuart was confident the code would overcome any future challenges headed its way following the announcement.

"Rugby league has bounced back from many challenges before and I know the united approach from the clubs and game will see the game return when we can," Stuart said.

Season suspended

The NRL is taking the unprecedented step of suspending the season due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

The ARL Commission held a meeting at Rugby League Central on Monday and right up until midway through Monday afternoon NRL officials were determined to keep the competition going given the financial fallout of postponing games, however the rapidly shifting nature of the pandemic has forced the NRL’s hand.

It is understood medical authorities updated their advice, which meant the Commission had to put its competition on hold.

Club CEOs were informed of the decision during a phone hook-up on Monday evening, with CEO Todd Greenberg and ARLC chairman Peter V'landys announcing the hiatus shortly afterwards.

"Our pandemic and biosecurity experts said due to the outbreak it is no longer safe for our players to play," V'landys said.

"We are going to look at all the options."