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Capacity crowds return in NSW as ARLC tackles contract reform

The ARL Commission has begun discussions around contract reform and potential transfer windows ahead of full capacity crowds returning in NSW next season.

In a double boost for fans, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced a major easing of COVID-19 restrictions across the state from next Monday, with sporting events permitted to fill stadiums for the first time since March.

At the same time on Wednesday the ARLC met across town to address proposals around the player contracting process, a consistent bugbear for fans in recent years.

Rules that would forbid players from breaking a contract to sign for more money at a rival club were discussed by the Commission, along with whether formal trade periods could also clear up one of the game's messiest aspects.

Frustrations around players agitating for releases have been raised among fans and clubs alike recently, with Josh Aloiai and Jason Saab both exiting the Tigers and Dragons early to join Manly after ugly contract disputes.

"Contract reform is something that was discussed [by the Commission] and will continue to be looked at, and everything will continue to be negotiated with the RLPA (Rugby League Players' Association)," NRL CEO Andrew Abdo told NRLcom.

The best tries from the 2020 season

"That includes trade periods and whether certain times for when it's best for players to be moving and negotiating, whether they can be brought in, that's something we'll continue to look at.

"It has been a concern that's been raised but there's many elements to it as well."
Negotiations around any contract reform will continue with the RLPA and are unlikely to come into place before 2022.

A final salary cap figure for next season remains the priority for both parties and NRL clubs eager to finalise playing rosters and budgets.

Capacity crowds will however be on the cards for next season after Berejiklian's announcement.

A 25th straight day without locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 sees NSW wind back restrictions in outdoor stadiums, which saw NRL crowds severely limited throughout 2020.

The best effort plays from the 2020 season

Both the NRL grand final and Origin II crowds at ANZ Stadium were capped at 40,000 people, while Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium was permitted a capacity crowd for the Origin decider on November 18.

The final attendance figure for Queensland's upset win of 49,155 ranked as the largest in the world since the pandemic's outbreak.

The NRL will continue to plan scenarios and logistics around mass gatherings throughout the off-season, with a focus on public transport to ensure crowd attendances can be maximised safely.

With players unlikely to be placed in a "hard bubble" next year unless state borders are closed once more by COVID-19 outbreaks, fans will be able to interact with players much more at games again.

Players were unable to have physical contact with family members they didn't live with or fans for much of 2020, often having to knock back autograph and photo requests after games as a result.

"We're certainly looking at much easier restrictions on players, hoping there won't be anything like the hard bubble we've seen this year," Abdo said.

"That means more interaction with fans and of course, a much easier life for players and their families.

"Crowds being able to come back is a big boost for the game and a reward for all the sacrifices made this year.

"There is still plenty of work to do over the off-season around safely managing crowds on public transport and accessing games but it is certainly a welcome step."


Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.