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To be continued: Uncertainty reigns but rugby league will remain

To be continued is the theme that’s starting to pop up around the NRL after the competition was suspended earlier this week.

Players have been posting pictures on social media of themselves and their teams with this concise caption.

It’s a display of resilience, defiance and hope that it won’t be too long before they’re back running out onto the field with the roar of a crowd spurring them on. Or even without the soundtrack of the fans in the background if the competition resumes behind closed doors a la round two.

The NRL will continue in some way, shape or form. Not knowing when it will restart is the hard part.

ARL chairman Peter V’landys announced on Monday he was still hopeful of a July kick-off. Officials can wait as late as the start of September to squeeze in a 20-week season before Christmas.

 
 
 
 
 
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To be continued...

A post shared by Nathan Cleary (@_nathancleary) on

But there is also the worst-case scenario of no more games at all in 2020 and trying to go back to normal, whatever that will be in the post-pandemic landscape, next year.

Like all of us, NRL players love to have control of their destiny as much as possible.

A set schedule for the week, the fixture list for the season to plan around and a goal at the end of the year - lifting the grand old trophy with Messrs Summons and Provan in full embrace.

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But just like the rest of us on this planet who have to deal with this global pandemic, the players have little control over when things can return to normal apart from following the directives of social distancing, maintaining healthy hygiene and anything else that stops the spread of COVID-19.

So many questions about the 2020 Telstra Premiership specifically will remain unanswered, at the least for a few months. They may never be resolved if the competition is eventually cancelled.

For older players in the twilight of their careers there’s a school of thought that the time off will rejuvenate their old legs and perhaps mean they can play on into 2021.

But ask any retired NRL player how hard it is to defy Father Time each year when you’re in your 30s and you’ll find the equation is not as simple as time off this year equals extra time 12 months down the track.

And there’s also the mental challenge of getting back up for another season when your body just won’t do what it used to do with relative ease.

For the likes of Dragons prop James Graham, Brett and Josh Morris, Chris Lawrence and Benji Marshall, they haven’t said this will be their last season but they’re not under contract for next year and CEOs will need to be careful with their salary cap more than ever.

No team boss likes telling a club legend there’s no offer on the table but it could be one of the many difficult conversations on the horizon.

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For journeymen and younger players who have yet to cement their spot at NRL level, uncertainty will also linger for as long as they’re off the paddock.

The NRL’s wellbeing & education manager Tony McFadyen said players were given the option when they hit 28 to complete the NRL’s Careerwise transition program to prepare them for life after football.

The program is overseen by the likes of former NRL stars Andrew Ryan and Dene Halatau to help veterans plan for the many years that follow the day they hang up their boots.

Dene Halatau in his final season in 2015.
Dene Halatau in his final season in 2015. ©NRL Photos

Halatau, who had been on the board of the RLPA and done plenty of work in the wellbeing and community spheres as a player, was able to plan his switch from the NRL bubble to working in the real world.

“I actually signed a one-year extension in 2015 with the Tigers thinking that would be my last year and it was probably before the start of the season kick off that I was planning on making an announcement to my family and friends,” Halatau said.

“I waited until mid-year then let the club know and then just made it official after training in one of the usual scrums. I was lucky I did have the luxury of choosing when my time was up. I could prepare for the transition because I knew it was coming."

The former back-rower, who played 15 Tests for New Zealand, said veteran players these days were much better prepared for life after footy than even his contemporaries of just five years ago, let alone the previous generations.

Due to the uncertainty everywhere in the world, not just in rugby league, he said: "Hopefully [this year’s retirees] have set themselves up so they’ve got a bit of a cushion to fall back on.

"From what I’m seeing, guys are a lot more prepared in terms of their qualifications and work experience."

He pointed to the likes of Wests Tigers forward Chris Lawrence as a prime example of how to set up for life after football. Lawrence started a business called One Wellbeing in 2013 which provides corporate wellbeing consulting services and athlete education.

Many players have prospered from the “no study, no play” policy that was put in place years ago for National Youth Competition competition, such as Roosters fullback James Tedesco, who completed a health and exercise science degree early in his career, well before he became one of the competition’s biggest stars.

There is also much uncertainty ahead for the fans, who had a taste of what lay ahead for their team but now their competition table is incomplete. 

Dally M Medal winner James Tedesco.
Dally M Medal winner James Tedesco. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Fatalistic fans of Parramatta are already saying it’s just their luck that after 34 years waiting for their next premiership, they’ve got a title contending team and are unbeaten after two weeks and no guarantee that they’ll be able to add to their win tally.

As important as the NRL is for its fans, rugby league is still just a sport and as tough as it is to deal with no footy for a few months or more, there are bigger issues in the world right now.

The key aspect for all rugby league fans to remember is that this game has been through tough times ever since it kicked off, surviving both World Wars, the flu pandemic of 1918, the Super League war while also competing with three other football codes in this country.

It has always managed to survive. Rugby league will be continued … 

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.