Could the NRL's Project Apollo be a winner? Digital artwork for Daily Telegraph by Boo Bailey
Could the NRL's Project Apollo be a winner? Digital artwork for Daily Telegraph by Boo Bailey

NRL aims for the stars in quest for rapid return

The NRL is channelling inspiration from US president John F Kennedy's ambition to get a man to the moon by launching its own Project Apollo in a bid to fast-track return to the field by as early as mid-June.

The NRL has formed an innovation committee led by ARL commissioner Wayne Pearce, premiership winning coach Trent Robinson, Raiders boss Don Furner and RLPA chief executive Clint Newton.

Former deputy premier Troy Grant, NRL's head of football Graham Annesley plus executives Liz Deegan and Andrew Abdo are also on the committee, which met on Wednesday.

 

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While July 1 has been touted as a potential start-date there are moves afoot to try to fast-track the game's return as early as the middle of June.

The group has rekindled the spirit of the US space race as its launches a salvage mission to save rugby league.

"We've called it Project Apollo," Pearce said. "Because when Kennedy said he wanted to get a man on the moon by the end of the decade people didn't think it was possible. Not even the people working on the project.

 

John F. Kennedy's famous speech to put a man on the NRL field, uhh, the moon.
John F. Kennedy's famous speech to put a man on the NRL field, uhh, the moon.

 

"The boss Peter V'landys has said he wants a July 1 start. He has done what JFK did so we have to make it happen."

While Kennedy did not live to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon on July 20, 1969 on Apollo 13, the NRL committee is planning to have the competition resume by the start of July.

The potential for wildcard play-offs, wooden spoon battles and a three-game grand final series have all been mooted publicly. Pearce said the group did not discuss any of those measures.

Instead they focused on what a proposed competition would resemble and the measures needed to ensure player safety.

 

ARL commissioner Wayne Pearce wants rugby league to get back on the field as soon as possible. Picture: Bill Hearne
ARL commissioner Wayne Pearce wants rugby league to get back on the field as soon as possible. Picture: Bill Hearne

"We are aiming for the NRL to kick-off on July 1," Pearce said.

"That's something we believe can happen. We have to get a whole lot more detailed information on a number of areas.

"We have to look at competition structures, details around biosecurity measures and logistics.

"What we acknowledge is we have to put some sort of bubble around players in terms of a firewall that's going to keep our players and the community safe and what measures do we put in place to ensure our players' safety."

Among the elements discussed included breaking the competition into conferences and housing multiple teams at the one precinct.

Canberra Raiders Chief Executive Don Furner is one of the key figures on the committee.
Canberra Raiders Chief Executive Don Furner is one of the key figures on the committee.

 

However, Pearce said it was unlikely that the 16 teams would stay and play in the one spot.

"How are we going to create an environment to guarantee to the best of our ability will be COVID free and to maintain that status?" Pearce said.

"It's less likely in be one venue, unless that venue can guarantee there are separate bubbles that can be enforced at the venue. I'm not saying it can't happen.

"The more likely option would be conferences. Different areas where the players will be housed. So if somebody gets (the virus) it doesn't affect the whole competition.

"There are different options we will have to look at."

The group will meet again on Thursday.

Originally published as NRL aims for the stars in quest for rapid return


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