Why COVID confusion is getting up NRL players’ noses

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It was just another cotton-bud invasion of Dale Finucane’s regularly bloodied nostrils when he had his seventh COVID-19 test in less than a week before leaving Melbourne on Sunday to join the NSW team on the Central Coast.

The swabs were deemed necessary because state health departments don’t recognise each other’s tests. Finucane, along with Storm teammate Josh Addo-Carr, criss-crossed state borders as they travelled from the club’s Sunshine Coast base to Melbourne, then to Newcastle for a match against the Roosters, before returning home and then entering the Blues camp.

Dale Finucane has been tested for COVID several times in recent days due to state border restrictions.Credit:Getty

The Rugby League Players Association has received so many enquiries over the differential treatment of AFL and NRL players, it was forced to send a message to the leaders of interstate clubs explaining the protocols of cross-border requirements.

(All AFL clubs are now based in Melbourne or Adelaide, meaning no cross-border exemptions are required for teams from red zones and players are not subject to strict protocols).

St George Illawarra players who partied in a teammate’s house following their Friday night golden point win, as well as the five Canterbury players sanctioned by the NRL for visiting a Bondi pub, can’t use cross-border restrictions as an excuse.

But absolute certainty over protocols is difficult when the environment is continually changing. Furthermore, the clubs, who are responsible for player compliance, are bombarded with paperwork from state governments and the NRL.

No sooner had Storm head of football Frank Ponissi dispatched his two NSW players to Origin camp, he received an email from the Queensland government.

It required all of the Storm’s Queensland players selected for the third Origin match to complete a whereabouts sheet, defining where they had been in the previous 14 days.

As Ponissi said, “It doesn’t end”.

NRL players have had two basic human rights, which are available to the rest of the population, extinguished.

The “no-fault” decree, which sidelined Dragons star Jack de Belin for two-and-a-half seasons, reverses the fundamental legal principle of innocent until proven guilty.

The Federal Court has upheld the NRL’s right to ban players charged with an offence that carries a jail term of 11 or more years but no other sport imposes such a penalty.

The NRL also requires players and coaches who enter a green zone free of COVID to self-isolate, while the rest of the citizenry in the area is free to visit pubs, restaurants and houses other than their own.

Some will argue this is the cost of earning $300,000 a year but the reason the governments have allowed cross-border travel by NRL teams is a “bread and circus” gesture for people – some also imprisoned – to watch games on TV.

The restrictions on players’ individual freedoms now extend deep into a second year. The RLPA is negotiating with the NRL for exemptions so players in a green zone can visit the house of a teammate, meaning the Storm players, trapped in their houses, can call in on each other. The NRL’s response? “We’re working through it.”

RLPA boss Clint Newton, while conceding the need to continue monitoring the players’ whereabouts and provide support, said: “The longer this goes, the greater the concerns.”

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