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Smith calls on NRL to suspend season; DCE, Mary, Madge happy to play

Storm skipper Cameron Smith has urged the NRL to suspend the competition temporarily to take stock of the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic on the sport.

Melbourne travelled to Manly on Sunday and emerged with a hard-fought 18-4 win before games go behind closed doors in round two following the government's ban on all crowds of 500 people or more assembling.

The Storm are scheduled to play Cronulla at Kogarah on Saturday.

Speaking after yet another round-one win for Melbourne, Smith expressed concerns held by his teammates and the entire club around the Storm's heavy travel schedule.

The former Queensland and Australian captain pushed for the NRL to cancel games on a short-term basis as the dramatic rise in the COVID-19 pandemic casts doubt over sport around the globe.

Match Highlights: Sea Eagles v Storm

"If we make a decision to suspend the comp for a couple of weeks then I think it just gives everyone an opportunity to actually sum up the situation a little bit better rather than being reactive daily or hourly," Smith said.

"We want to be playing rugby league. We'd love to be playing. But this is a serious thing that's happening at the moment.

"I'm really confident with the measures we're taking as a club, particularly from our CEO Dave Donaghy and our doctor to minimise the risk around our organisation and anyone getting the virus or being around large crowds.

"This is a view of our entire team. Given our team travels a lot. We're travelling virtually every second week of the competition so we're going to be exposed to airports, air travel and large crowds a lot.

"So there is a major concern there ... Our players aren't concerned about themselves, they're concerned about their families and making this issue which is already global, making it much bigger than what it is in Australia at the moment."

Melbourne travelled home on Sunday night via a commercial carrier, while Smith expressed sympathy for the Warriors' plight.

The New Zealand side will be based on the Gold Coast due to mandatory isolation protocols put in place by governments either side of the Tasman, with the Warriors facing an uncertain future beyond round two given players understandably want to return home to be with family members.

Smith said "at this stage" he would continue playing and did not consider personally stepping down over safety concerns.

"Going into round two, there's no crowds so we're not going to be around large crowds. So I'm comfortable with where things are at at the moment.

"If I wasn't comfortable I wouldn't have come up this weekend and the rest of the players wouldn't have come up either. But this thing changes all the time."

Round two to continue with suspension of season deemed 'catastrophic'

Manly counterpart Daly Cherry-Evans said he was comfortable continuing to play and trusting the NRL's decision not to follow competitions like the NBA, English Premier League and Super Rugby into hiatus, even if the constant focus on COVID-19 made for a different match preparation.

"I definitely believe that we should respect the whole situation and I feel as though the NRL has done that with getting the right measures in place with their research," Cherry-Evans said.

"As a player I trust that the NRL is doing the right thing by the players and for as long as they're making the decision around when we play and don't play, and whether we play in front of anyone, I'm going to respect that decision. 

"You can't avoid it ... This isn't about not reading a newspaper, you can't say 'I didn't see that this week'.

"We do talk about it, we do understand what's going on. But you only have to look at the way the game was played today that both teams were committed to the game."

St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor and his Wests Tigers counterpart Michael Maguire backed the NRL leadership for the measures they had put in place to enable the competition to continue.

"It is great to have the footy back and wherever we play I am sure the smart people are making the right decisions for the right reasons," Maguire said.  "I really do hope that the game keeps going and it brings so much entertainment for so many people.

"I think the game is in a good place in the way it is growing and progressing forward so this is a moment in time where we have just got to rally together and make sure that we hang on the game and understand how special it is."

McGregor added: "It’s a unique situation, I have never been around anything like this in my lifetime in professional sport. Sometimes you get the test before the lesson and you are not sure what is the right way to go but we have got the right people making decisions in the game and we have got to put our support behind them."

Match Highlights: Dragons v Wests Tigers

Both coaches said after Sunday night’s match at WIN Stadium they want to continue playing for as long as possible and were confident the matches would have the same intensity without crowds.

"You like to play in front of people but if they feel fit that the sport needs to go ahead and people can stay at home and watch it we will play," McGregor said.

"There are a lot of people here today who have said to me that they really want to go next week but they can’t."

Maguire added: "To see the crowd that turned up today and there were a lot of people who probably could have not come but I saw a lot of Wests Tigers jerseys around the grandstand.

"We have got family and a lot of supporters and members who will be watching us on TV so we want to make sure that we provide for them watching in their loungerooms the same atmosphere."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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