Super League executives will have endured a tough couple of days following the news that six Hull players and two coaching staff tested positive for coronavirus after the weekend’s games.
It’s a setback that the sport could have done without, just two weeks after its restart, and while the response has been quick to re-arrange games for this weekend, it raises questions over the feasibility of the season finishing at all.
The reasons for playing are pretty straight forward – the league and its clubs need to satisfy the Sky Sports broadcast deal that underpins all levels of the sport, having already agreed a rebate that will amount to a deduction of around £280,000 per Super League club in 2021.
With clubs having already committed to extra costs in terms of testing and bringing players off furlough earlier than they would have had to, they can’t give up on seeing things through.
But with just seven games played out of more than 80, there has to be a concern that this is unlikely to be the last coronavirus outbreak within the competition.
Former Catalans coach Trent Robinson, now with Sydney Roosters in the NRL, said: “There’s a lot more cases over there, but let’s just have a think. A team comes in to contact or gets tested positive, what does our competition look like? What do our daily lives look like for the rest of the year?
“We need to finish this competition financially for players, staff and everybody that works in the office we need to continue to play the competition.
“It’s going to be tough depending on what’s going to happen there with obviously Toronto being out, now Hull has to be out, playing a lot of games in a short period of time it’s going to have to be well managed.”
Super League differs from the NRL in that its players haven’t been strictly monitored between games – the NRL, which has been back since May, has required teams to operate within a bubble and there have been stern consequences for those breaking that bubble, as former England coach Wayne Bennett found out last week when he popped out for an evening meal against bio-security protocol.
While the financial rewards on offer in the NRL dwarf that of most players in Super League, reality has to hit home soon – if the season is brought to an end due to this, then there could be no clubs to play for at all.
It would appear little effort has been made to try and control any potential outbreak within Super League, with no real restrictions on player movements outside of club commitments.
Warrington’s Blake Austin managed to make it to Anfield for Liverpool’s Premier League title celebrations recently, against the advice of Merseyside Police who warned fans not to attend the stadium, with one club doctor confirming that there has been no instructions issued to players regarding staying within a bubble and potentially reducing their chances of contracting the virus.
There has been criticism over the frequency of testing – with players reportedly only being tested once a week, with a total of just over 2,000 tests made prior to the weekend’s games all coming back negative.
But if there is little control over movements in between games, multiple tests will do little to combat any outbreak.
It remains to be seen how long Hull and Salford will have to remain out of action until it is safe to return – and there will no doubt be plenty of nervous club owners at the end of this weekend, hoping that there are no more positives which could derail the restarted season barely weeks after it has begun.
Super League’s coronavirus outbreak