Australia considers travel ban exemption for NZ Warriors

SYDNEY (AFP) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison signalled yesterday he could allow the New Zealand Warriors into Australia to play in a resumed National Rugby League (NRL) competition, which rugby league officials hope will kick off next month.

The NRL has been pushing hard to restart the league despite the virus shutdown, with officials reaffirming plans on Wednesday for teams to begin training on May 4 and games to resume on May 28.

Morrison – a diehard Cronulla Sharks fan – said the government had been “directly engaged in” discussions over New Zealand’s involvement in a rebooted NRL, adding that border officials had already granted exemptions for some non-Australians to enter the country.

“That is an area that I think we can look potentially favourably on provided all the other arrangements are in place regarding public safety,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“That’s something we’ll just work through patiently.”

Australia closed its borders to non-residents in late March in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, while also imposing bans on large public gatherings and internal movement.

Reported plans to resume the NRL include having all 16 teams, including the Warriors, based in Sydney and playing their games under strict isolation restrictions.

The Warriors are the only non-Australian side in the competition.

Morrison said he had also spoken to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about the possibility of a bilateral border reopening that would allow citizens – including NRL players – to travel between the two countries.

“Now, if there is any country in the world with whom we can reconnect with first, undoubtedly that’s New Zealand,” he said.

“And we have similar trajectories. Their restrictions have been far greater. Our case response has, you know, been the same, if not better than New Zealand.

“So if there’s any country where we can look to achieve that, then I would have thought New Zealand would be the obvious candidate and that’s the nature of the discussions we’ve had.”

But Morrison would not give a green light to the NRL restarting on May 28, saying Australia’s leaders would be guided by medical experts when they consider lifting restrictions next month.