NRL does not impose COVID-19 jab, but unvaccinated players may have problems with state protocols

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo says players will not be mandated to have a COVID-19 vaccine, but has warned that unvaccinated players will be subject to stricter protocols.

On the same day that the AFL mandated its players to be vaccinated in mid-February, Abdo took a different approach.

The NRL has struggled with mandatory vaccinations since the resumption of the 2020 season, as several high-profile players, including Bryce Cartwright, Josh Papalii and Joseph Tapine, expressed reluctance to receive flu shots.

Despite many companies and rival codes requiring employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Abdo said the NRL would leave it to the players.

“Obviously, we need to ensure that we have continuity to the competition and we create a safe working environment,” he told Channel 7.

“We are busy working on the protocols for the players who have been vaccinated and the players who have not been vaccinated. Hopefully we are talking about a very small group of players.

“I want to imagine some pretty strict requirements about what they will be able to do to train and play.

“Of course this can be taken by our hands by health orders or by airlines, so there will be consequences for those who do not choose to be vaccinated, but it is not our approach as a governing body to impose it.

“From now until the end of the off-season, we will have a very clear set of guidelines for how clubs and players can safely return to training for those who have been vaccinated and those who have not yet been vaccinated.”

Abdo claimed that some clubs had close to 90 per cent of the players and staff vaccinated with the governing body’s own staff up to 98 per cent.

Talking about a conference system

Meanwhile, Abdo said the potential introduction of an 18th team could see the NRL introduce a conference system.

The Redcliffe-based Dolphins, who unveiled Wayne Bennett as their coach on Thursday, will be the 17th NRL franchise of the 2023 season.

Although he declined to speculate on when and where the 18th club would come from, Abdo said the increase in teams would force the Australian Rugby League Commission to investigate a conference system.

“You have to start with the end goal in mind,” he said. “An 18th team gives us one more match each round and the even number of teams allows for different configurations.

“We should look at the virtues and advantages and disadvantages of a conference model. We suffer from a draw that is not symmetrical.

“Not all teams play the other team at home and away.

“The advantage of a conference model – and it does not have to be geographical – is that you are able to give straight in the draw, giving fans clarity on who to play each season.

“You can focus on local rivalries and a competition within a competition.”

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