Twelve NRL clubs will relocate to south-east Queensland for a month to keep the 2021 competition alive with CEO Andrew Abdo indicating they may remain there for the rest of the season.
After an exhaustive day of meetings in response to the surging COVID-19 outbreak in greater Sydney, club CEOs were informed on Sunday night that the nine Sydney-based outfits, the Warriors, Raiders and Knights will shift to the Sunshine State by Wednesday.
Several clubs have already prepared players and staff to be ready for such a move, with the NRL requiring Apollo bubble lists of 30 players and 11 staff members to be submitted to head office.
The NRL remains in ongoing negotiations with the Queensland government around the plans, which will be reviewed on a weekly basis.
Canberra and Newcastle will join the nine Sydney sides and Central Coast-based Warriors in relocating to dedicated hubs that provide appropriate training and living facilities for players and staff.
Match Highlights: Sharks v Warriors
Melbourne and North Queensland at this stage will remain in the Victorian capital and Townsville respectively and play out of their home bases accordingly.
Clubs will return to Sydney as soon as the Commission believes risk to the competition in NSW has subsided, with Abdo telling Fox League the hubs could be kept until the end of the regular season if needed.
"We're locking in some certainty for the next four rounds and that buys us some time to figure out how the situation unfolds in NSW," he said.
We hope it is only for a month, but if it needs to be longer, it will be.Peter V'landys
"If we need to extend to the end of the season we will.
"We know that we have the capacity to absorb that and we're going to make this as comfortable as we can for the clubs and players and the families.
"We're going to commit to taking 40-odd officials and players up for the 12 teams and we're also going to support getting their immediate family members there as well. That will be for a four-week period but if we need to extend until the end of the season then we will."
The mass relocation comes after NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian's forecast that she "will be shocked" if Sydney records less than 100 active COVID-19 cases on Monday.
A third week of Greater Sydney's lockdown started on Sunday with news of 77 locally acquired cases.
Wednesday's Ampol State of Origin series finale had already been moved on Saturday night from Newcastle to the Gold Coast to ensure fans could attend the match.
Players will remain under the same COVID-19 restrictions that limit movements to training, games and essential shopping for at least 14 days.
Significantly, family members will be allowed to join them as part of a staged relocation process, though they too will have to undergo two weeks of quarantine as well.
Match Highlights: Bulldogs v Roosters
Players involved in Origin III from the 12 relocated teams will remain in Queensland after the game and reunite with family members and their clubs at their respective temporary hubs.
ARL chairman Peter V'landys said the latest sacrifices being undertaken by players and clubs would keep the 2021 NRL season afloat.
"These are very difficult decisions," V'landys said.
"I feel for the players who have to leave their homes for a period. We will not keep players in Queensland any longer than they need to be.
"We hope it is only for a month, but if it needs to be longer, it will be. We’re doing this to protect their livelihoods.
"This will also have a commercial impact on clubs. I have assured all clubs that the NRL will ensure they remain financially strong during this period.
Anaconda Fish of Origin - Episode III
"The NRL has found extensive efficiencies and commercial revenue over the last year which ensured the game is financially stronger than it otherwise would have been."
Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium and Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast to host the majority of games over the next month, while Sunshine Coast Stadium will also be used in a revised schedule that will be decided "in the next 24 hours" according to Abdo.
As it stands the Storm are scheduled to host Newcastle at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
The Victorian government's hard border to all of NSW and the ACT means travel exemptions will be required for the Knights to make a fly-in-fly-out game-day trip to Melbourne, who are also due to host 2020 grand finalists in round 20.
"We will finalise the exact locations that teams will be based and the updated schedule in the next 24 hours," Abdo said.
"South-east Queensland has multiple stadiums, high quality venues to train, first-class hotel infrastructure and a low risk of COVID-19 infection.
"We will continue to work closely with our biosecurity experts to track the data and consider the risk in NSW. We will also work closely with our clubs to ensure they have every assistance they require."
Veteran forward Felisa Kaufusi said on Sunday in Maroons camp he was prepared for further upheaval.
"To be honest, it feels old being from Melbourne. I am starting to get used to it to be honest," he said.
Every try from round 17
"I think I have spent six months of the last 18 months back home, it was nice to get back home and sleep in my own bed before coming back into camp. We will see what happens but we have to roll with whatever they decide."
Breaches of the NRL's strict level-four Apollo protocols by Dragons players and Queensland star Jai Arrow in the past week have put the NRL's travel exemptions at risk, with 12 St George Illawarra players still yet to return to training ahead of Friday's clash with Manly.
Negotiations continue between the NRL and St George Illawarra players regarding sworn statements that would ensure no one other than players were at Paul Vaughan's party in breach of lockdown laws last weekend.
Flegler: Form hasn't been great but ready to step up
Abdo has confirmed 10 of the 12 players involved in the breach have signed the statements and is confident of the matter being resolved by Monday.
Greater Sydney's worsening COVID-19 situation has also made the Warriors' long-awaited return to Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium – scheduled for August 15 in round 22 – unlikely given the travel exemptions required, though Abdo said the late of that fixture would be decided in conjunction with the club.
Meanwhile, pre-season training for each of the six NRLW teams in the expanded competition had also been due to start on Monday, but Project Apollo has now pushed that date back a week with contingencies for the competition to be worked out this week.