On the eve of this year's Telstra Premiership grand final, leading NRL figures have praised hotel chain Accor for accommodating the many changes required in a season like no other.
Keeping the competition afloat amid multiple COVID outbreaks, lockdowns and other challenges throughout 2021 has been no easy task and Accor has played a key role in these turbulent times for the Telstra Premiership.
"The NRL owes the entire Telstra Premiership to Accor because they were the partner who moved heaven and earth," said NRL head of partnerships Jaymes Boland-Rudder.
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said while the experiences of 2020 helped when it came to adapting to the new challenges this year, he could not have anticipated just how many fresh challenges would emerge.
"It's been a sort of relentless challenge to constantly identify and then overcome obstacles and challenges as they presented themselves on like a treadmill, fairly relentless at high speed," he said.
"In that hardcore scenario planning, we try to identify just about any permutation that could present itself, and we looked at the map of Australia, and New Zealand for that matter, and we try to consider the different ways in which we might be able to tackle some of the challenges around lockdowns, border closures and [how] COVID infection rates might accelerate."
You're talking well over 1000 people, transport them safely in a biosecurity bubble, to another state.Andrew Abdo
The NRL had been prepared for the possibility of relocating 13 teams into Queensland.
"We were able to therefore move relatively quickly when we needed to and have the protocols on hand in order to implement what was probably one of the toughest and most challenging logistical exercises that the competition had faced in its history," he said.
"We knew we had a three-day road map in order to move 13 teams, about 450 players, 150 officials, and then potentially families as well.
"So you're talking well over 1000 people, transport them safely in a biosecurity bubble, to another state.
"And then I think what's lost in a lot of people, it's not just about relocating teams in order to be able to play or in order to get into Queensland, but it was the need for us to not compromise the integrity of the competition and therefore be able to create two things: a quarantine environment because we were moving people from one state to another; and the second quarantine environment that allowed for a high performance environment."
Accor chief commercial officer Renae Trimble said the playbook had been rewritten this year.
"It was quite incredible, the pace at which everyone moved," Trimble said.
"Everyone was really collaborative in the way that they came together.
"Given that we had entire states in lockdown, sport was one of the very few things that people could really get excited about."
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Accor's Gold Coast general manager Neil Scanlan said there were just three days from the time the group knew what was happening until they welcomed their first guest.
"They're doing their job – it's important for us that we do our job and for us that was just about making sure they had everything they needed and try to make it as close to home as we could," Scanlan said.
Although the 2021 finish line is in sight, Abdo said the sport was not out of the woods yet and it was important to start planning for next year as soon as possible.
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"This has been a year where we'll look back, and go, we, we did a lot together to get through the Telstra Premiership and we'll be really grateful for the way in which we leaned on each other and supported each other through this period," he said.
"Obviously Accor played a key role in that.
"The truth is that we're not out of the woods yet. We have to get everyone safely vaccinated as quickly as possible and we're facing another challenging season next year.
"This pandemic has had a huge impact on us as a society and continues to pose a significant health risk for people to manage.
"We continue to think about what the new world looks like and what the new normal is. There's a lot of work to do to make sure that 2022 is another successful season for us.
"We're not taking anything for granted."
The games partners were also praised by the governing body for playing their part in the overall success of 2021 which culminates on Sunday night with Penrith and South Sydney squaring off in the grand final.