The first round of the 2020 Telstra Premiership will proceed but the second round will be played behind closed doors after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a ban on public gatherings of more than 500 people as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Australia's chief medical officer, Dr Brendan Murphy, advised federal and state governments on Friday of his recommendation for the drastic measures.
Based on that advice, the Prime Minister said by Monday, the government would be advising against any "non-essential, organised gatherings of 500 persons or more".
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg held a phone hook-up with all 16 clubs to inform them about what the measures will mean for the rest of the first round of the premiership and the season.
"We've listened to the authorities who are in a far better position than we are," he said.
"If the government gave us advice today to close the stadiums down we would have. The measures they're putting together are precautionary measures.
"We're going to do everything we can to protect players from the disease. If that means a club can't play a game in the competition or be stood down for the round we'll do that."
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Australian Rugby League Commission chair Peter V’landys sympathised with supporters when making the announcement about the changes for round two.
“We know this will be disappointing for fans but we are dealing with uncertain and unprecedented times,” Mr V’landys said.
“We have always maintained we would follow the advice of health authorities to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 virus. In doing this, we have been in daily contact with Federal and State agencies and with both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian today."
Greenberg predicted there were financial difficulties ahead but the NRL will support all clubs throughout the process.
"It's going to have significant financial impacts on all 16 clubs and the game," he said.
"We're in unprecedented times. If they're in financial difficulty we'll keep them afloat. We'll get through this together.
"We're going to work through the next week and work out the impact for clubs. These are significants amounts of money for clubs over the course of the year.
"All 16 clubs are in the same position and listening to the same advice and getting into an alignment for this weekend's games.
"If something changes we'll pivot and assess it accordingly. The good part about State of Origin is it doesn't start for a couple of months. Hopefully it changes. If we make changes now we might get the benefit of that in a month's time."
The Prime Minister addressed the nation via a media conference in Sydney on Friday after a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments, speaking on behalf of the federal government, state premiers and chief ministers.
"It is recommended to us that we move to a position by Monday that we advise against from Monday that gatherings of 500 or more," he said.
"We've always known the number of cases will rise. We will get through this and be able to get through this with a world-class health system.
"The goal here is straightforward – it is simply to slow the rate of transmission of coronavirus in Australia."
Morrison initially confirmed his plans to attend Cronulla's clash with South Sydney on Saturday, saying it may be his "last chance to see my beloved Sharks for a while", but later announced he would not be attending the game.
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Canterbury have already announced they would comply with the ban, which means when they host the Cowboys at ANZ Stadium next Thursday it will be behind closed doors.
"Our priority is the safety of everyone including members, fans, our staff and players, all event partners and members of the general community," the Bulldogs said in their statement.
Raiders CEO Don Furner applauded the NRL for being "very proactive" about the historic turn of events.
"The NRL will keep us informed with revenue and refunds and how it all works," he said.
"This is unprecedented. There are two byes up our sleeve so we've got a couple of weeks that act as a buffer. But things change quickly as we've seen over the last couple of days."
Greenberg had earlier announced at Townsville Airport that Friday night's clash between North Queensland and Brisbane would be going ahead unless they were told otherwise by government officials.
"At the moment it is business as normal. We are in contact with the Federal Government, the Queensland State Government and a variety of health authorities," he said.
"If anything changes we will let that be known to fans but at the moment it is business as usual.
“We have consistently been guided by experts. We have consistently said we will take advice from government and the health authorities and if they are telling us they are right to play then we will play.
"If they tell us there is a period of time that fans can’t come to games then we will enact some plans but at the moment, as the [Queensland Health] Minister said today we are open for business."
Fans have taken flights from Darwin and driven 12 hours from far-flung rural areas of North Queensland to attend the Cowboys' historic clash with Brisbane at their new stadium.
We're going to do everything we can to protect players from the disease.Todd Greenberg
"Tonight is a massive night for this region, for this community and this club – the Cowboys – and for rugby league in general. We want to see a full house," Greenberg said.
"We are mindful that we are in extraordinary times with a virus going across the whole country and now across the world."
The Queensland Rugby League has announced all statewide competition matches will proceed this weekend, as scheduled, in the Intrust Super Cup, BHP Premiership, Hastings Deering Colts and Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup competitions.
The NSWRL has also stated it is continuing to plan on the assumption that all competitions in NSWRL are proceeding as planned.
Stringent guidelines introduced
NRL clubs were notified before the first round of the season kicked off on Thursday night to limit interaction with fans at matches.
Community visits may also be cancelled as part of measures brought in to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has led the NBA to suspend its season.
Players have been advised to limit mingling with fans prior to matches or on the field after full-time, where they often interact with friends, supporters and family members to sign autographs and have photos taken.
They have been encouraged to acknowledge their supporters from a distance by waving, giving the thumbs up or with raised arms.
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A set of guidelines was issued to all 16 NRL clubs on Thursday, which also includes restricting access to dressing rooms to players and match-day staff only.
Greenberg advised them to take reasonable steps to limit club-organised player contact with community organisations such as hospitals and schools.
He also advised the clubs to take the advice of their chief medical officers on enhanced medical and hygiene initiatives, such as regularly cleaning surfaces in training areas with antiseptic solutions, thorough hand-washing, ensuring food preparation is done to the highest levels and preventing the sharing of water bottles.
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Media will not be permitted in the sheds, while host broadcasters will have access to certain areas only.
The RLPA has been in close contact with the NRL regarding its approach to COVID-19.
"We will continue to collaborate with the NRL to ensure our members remain informed of the collective action that is being taken to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 within the community," an RLPA spokesperson said.
Many sports affected
The NBA has announced its season is on hiatus after Utah's All-Star centre Rudy Gobert tested positive to COVID-19, while his Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell has also been diagnosed with the virus.
The Australian Formula One Grand Prix, due to be held in Melbourne this weekend, was officially called off on Friday morning while French Super League club Catalans will play their home match against Leeds on the weekend in a closed stadium.
Juventus defender Daniele Rugani has tested positive for COVID-19 and will undergo a 14-day quarantine, along with teammates and coaching staff with the Italian Serie A championship-winning side.
Rugani, who was on the bench in last weekend's match against Inter Milan, is the first Italian player diagnosed with the virus but German club Hannover 96 has also announced a member of its team had COVID-19.
International travel for Super League clubs has been affected after the French government banned gatherings of more than 1000 people.
A Leeds players has self-isolated after showing possible signs of COVID-19 and the club has decided not to travel to France for their weekend match against Catalans at Stade Gilbert Brutus in Perpignan.
A Leeds statement said the player was being managed in line with current Department of Health guidance and subsequent steps for the rest of the squad, if necessary, will be advised by the Rhinos medical team.
The match was originally scheduled to be played in a closed stadium but has now been postponed.
Self-quarantined Fremantle Dockers player Sam Switkowski was cleared of COVID-19 on Tuesday after fears he had contracted the virus from a friend who had recently visited China.
Kiwi concerns grow
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday announced there would be no new border restrictions but her government would discuss potential measures over the weekend to prevent the spread of the virus in the South Pacific.
The NZ Herald has reported there have been five confirmed cases of COVID-19 with two more probable cases.
Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, have also tested positive to coronavirus while on holiday on the Gold Coast.
The Hollywood star posted on Twitter on Thursday to announce his diagnosis.