Warriors coach urges players ‘to be smart’ on virus rules

TAMWORTH, AUSTRALIA (AFP) – New Zealand Warriors coach Stephen Kearney warned players yesterday not to squander the chance for Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) to become one of the first sports in the world to restart from coronavirus shutdown.

Kearney’s Auckland-based Warriors arrived in Australia on Sunday after being granted a special exemption to enter the country and train en masse ahead of a planned resumption of the sport.

Kearney thanked officials in Canberra for the opportunity and – after a string of quarantine breaches by high-profile NRL players – urged everyone involved in the competition to follow the rules.

“There’s a lot at stake here, we’re not just talking about one footy club, we’re talking about the competition,” he told a video news conference.

“You’ve just got to do the right thing, it’s not that hard. We’ve got to be smart, do the right thing and get our game back up and running.”

File photo shows New Zealand Warriors players during a match. PHOTO: XINHUA

The NRL hopes to resume on May 28 after the competition was suspended on March 24, just two matches into the season.

Australian authorities have generally supported the restart but their patience has been tested after several Australian players were fined for breaching social distancing rules.

Kearney, whose team is basing itself at rural Tamworth, about five hours drive north of Sydney, said his players were ready to resume training after a challenging period.

“If you look around the world at the moment, I don’t think there’s a sporting competition that will get up and running – we would be the first,” he said.

“So in that sense, we do feel that comes with a huge responsibility on our part and the boys were made pretty clear about that responsibility this morning.”

Under plans thrashed out by the NRL and its broadcast partners, the season will be cut from 25 rounds to 20 – including the two already played — with a four-week playoff series ending in a Grand Final on October 25.

The three-match State of Origin series between New South Wales and Queensland, normally played mid-season, will shift to November for the first time.

The NRL has pushed hard to restart the league as Australia achieved success in curbing the spread of coronavirus, with the number of new daily cases slowing significantly in recent weeks.