As part of the NRL 2020 Annual recounting the major news stories in rugby league, David Middleton looks back at April.
April 1: The NRL’s newly established Innovation Committee launches Project Apollo, a mission to have the premiership back up and running by July 1. The committee considers a range of options, including isolating players from all 16 clubs on Tangalooma Island in Queensland before transporting them to venues such as Suncorp Stadium and Cbus Super Stadium for games.
NRL boss Todd Greenberg agrees to take the same pay cut as players in an effort to secure the agreement of players on a new pay deal.
The NSW Government confirms that sporting events are exempt from new restrictions introduced to curb the spread of coronavirus, providing hope that the NRL can recommence its season by June or July.
The NRL cancel the registrations of Canterbury players Jayden Okunbor and Corey Harawira-Naera following their misconduct at Port Macquarie in February.
Bellamy shares self-isolation routine
April 2: The NRL and RLPA sign off on a revised pay deal in which players agree to a cut of around 71 per cent for the rest of the 2020.
April 3: NSW coach Brad Fittler supports calls for a three-game State of Origin series to restart the 2020 season and even suggests players such as Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita and Siosiua Taukeiaho should be considered for selection to add public appeal.
April 6: New Zealand’s international travel bans could prevent the Warriors from participating in a revised NRL premiership in 2020, says the Daily Telegraph.
April 7: NRL boss Todd Greenberg assures anxious NRLW players they have not been forgotten during negotiations to restart the competition.
Melbourne captain Cameron Smith expresses doubts that NRL players could cope with living and playing in isolation for the rest of the season. "To ask players to be away from their families, for an extended period of time, would be extremely difficult," he said. "We are human beings first."
April 8: The NRL is confident that players will not be forced into 14 days quarantine before being permitted to resume the competition and the prospect of locating in one secure "bubble" location is all but ruled out, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph. Meanwhile, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Warriors are expected to be granted exemptions from New Zealand and Australian governments to travel across the Tasman.
Sacked Canterbury players Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor formally appeal against their indefinite bans from the NRL for serious misconduct.
April 9: ARLC Commissioner Wayne Pearce announces that the committee charged with preparing the NRL to resume its competition has decided on May 28 for the restart. Pearce says details over the format of the competition have yet to be determined.
The NRL appeals committee dismiss an appeal by player agent Gavin Orr over the cancellation of his accreditation for breaches which included "knowingly aiding a breach of the NRL’s salary cap rules".
NRL proposes date for return, structure still to be finalised
April 10: Public opinion over the NRL’s plans to restart its competition is fiercely divided, especially after NSW deputy premier John Barilaro declares that the NRL is "the tonic the state and nation needs to get through the virus".
The NRL hits back at claims from state and federal health officials that they were not consulted before the NRL announced plans to relaunch its competition on May 28. ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys says the NRL had been in constant communication with relevant NSW authorities and had been given the all clear to resume playing and training.
April 12: Sydney Roosters chairman Nick Politis calls for all clubs to restart the NRL season on zero points to protect the integrity of the competition. Politis tells the Sunday Telegraph "if you change the draw, you’ve got to start again. If the current points are to stand, we have to play over a full season." The suggestion sparks a fierce backlash as fans, players and politicians demand that the points from the opening two rounds stand. ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys confirms that points from the opening two rounds will remain in place (April 13).
NSW deputy premier John Barilaro pledges state government support for the NRL’s restart on May 28, stressing that "Rugby League is at the heart of everything we do in NSW".
Queensland premier Anastasia Palaszczuk is less forthcoming, indicating that the Queensland government has no intention of relaxing border restrictions before May 28 and that the Broncos, Cowboys and Titans will not be granted exemptions to fly in and out of the state.
April 13: The Sydney Morning Herald reports that NRL clubs are preparing to target players from both rugby codes left out of work by the coronavirus crisis. Stars such as Sonny Bill Williams and Quade Cooper are in the sights of several clubs, according to the paper.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller warns that the NRL faces "work and safety" hurdles before the premiership can recommence on May 28.
April 14: Channel Nine boss Hugh Marks meets with ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys to discuss the immediate future of the game’s broadcasting arrangements. V’landys says in a statement that he was "buoyed by Mr Marks’ support of rugby league and his commitment to the game."
Stuart and Raiders players adapting to life in isolation
April 15: NRL coaches show solidarity towards the Warriors by agreeing not to resume training until the Warriors are clear of any quarantine requirements and ready to resume themselves. It is the first major move by the newly formed NRL Coaches Association.
The NRL’s aim to restart on May 28 strikes a roadblock when the Warriors’ plans to fly to Australia on April 19 before being forced into two weeks’ self-isolation are postponed.
April 16: Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire contacts the manager of Quade Cooper to determine if the out-of-work Wallaby playmaker would be available for a short-term deal in the NRL.
April 17: The Daily Telegraph claims that plans are afoot to stage the State of Origin series after the NRL grand final in October.
Channel Nine CEO Hugh Marks backs the NRL’s plan to resume the competition on May 28 after a meeting between ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys, Foxtel chief Patrick Delany and Marks.
Winner of six State of Origin series as NSW coach, Phil Gould names his top five Blues players on Channel Nine’s The Greatest program. They are Laurie Daley, Brad Fittler, Glenn Lazarus, Andrew Johns and Steve Mortimer.
The game mourns the shock death of 27-year-old Wynnum Manly captain Mitchell Cronin, who is found dead in his home swimming pool following a weight session.
April 18: The New Zealand Government grants an exemption to the Warriors, allowing them to travel to Australia to prepare for the resumption of the NRL season.
Former England Test centre Kallum Watkins is granted an immediate release from his contract with the Gold Coast Titans on compassionate grounds. Watkins’ father had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
April 19: The Sun-Herald reports that the NRL has received private equity and loan proposals from American investors interested in buying into the NRL.
April 20: The Daily Telegraph reports the 16 NRL clubs have gone through an astonishing 116 different CEOs and club chairs since 2010.
Under pressure NRL CEO Todd Greenberg resigns after four years in the role. Chief commercial officer Andrew Abdo is appointed interim CEO as a formal search begins for Greenberg’s successor. Peter V’landys rules out an Executive Chairman role.
Greenberg resigns as NRL CEO
April 21: South Sydney owner Russell Crowe urges the ARL Commission to consider former Rabbitohs general manager Shane Richardson for the vacant NRL CEO role. "There’s no better candidate for the job," Crowe said. "None of the other candidates can match his time in the sport."
April 22: ARL Commissioner Wayne Pearce declares that May 28 remains the target date for the recommencement of the premiership, despite the absence of a restructured broadcasting agreement or a competition format.
The Daily Telegraph reports that clubs will be heavily fined or face the loss of competition points if players do not adhere to strict biosecurity measures.
The NSWRL announces that community competitions will be permitted to recommence in July, as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to decrease.
April 24: Broadcasters Channel Nine and Foxtel commit to the restart of the NRL competition on May 28 after respective bosses Hugh Marks and Patrick Delany meet with ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys.
April 26: NRL coaches offer to wear microphones during play to add to the entertainment value of games played without crowds.
April 27: Representative stars Latrell Mitchell and Josh Addo-Carr are caught flouting state social distancing laws after photographs of the pair posing with a group of men on the NSW mid-North Coast are posted on social media. Newcastle player Tyronne Roberts-Davis is also identified as having breached public health orders. Mitchell and Addo-Carr make public apologies for their actions, while the trio are each fined $1000 by NSW police.
It is later revealed (April 28) that Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary was also involved in a breach of social distancing laws by allowing at least four women into his home. The NRL hand down fines of $20,000 each to Mitchell and Addo-Carr and $4000 to Cleary along with suspended one-match bans.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro warns that the NRL season could be shut down for good if there are further breaches by players. Channel Nine commentator Phil Gould says Mitchell, Addo-Carr and Cleary should be suspended for the season for jeopardising the NRL’s plans to restart the competition.
April 28: ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys announces that the premiership will be played over 20 rounds when the game resumes on May 28. The premiership will culminate with a grand final at the Sydney Cricket Ground on October 25 and a State of Origin series to be played over three consecutive Wednesdays in November. The grand final venue is contingent on the Twenty20 cricket World Cup being cancelled.
April 29: Clubs are told to limit staff members to 18 at training to comply with the game’s 50-person limit at training venues. The rest of the 50 will be made up of players.
Wests Tigers: We'll be ready for restart
Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary lands in deeper trouble with the NRL when a TikTok video shows him dancing with the group of girls he says arrived at his house unannounced and he claimed stayed for "no more than 10 minutes". Cleary receives a second breach notice from the NRL (May 1).
April 30: The Daily Telegraph reports that Canterbury forward Joe Stimson is likely to be sidelined for the season after the coronavirus crisis forces a delay to surgery for a shoulder injury he suffered against the Cowboys in March.
The RLPA says players may refuse to recommence training on May 4 unless the NRL provides clarity on a range of issues, including wages.
The British government issues the Rugby Football League with a $30 million cash boost to secure the immediate future of the game in England.