Rugby League: NRL's plans to restart boosted after Queensland says teams can travel


MELBOURNE (Reuters) - National Rugby League's hopes of restarting competition by May 28 were boosted on Friday with Queensland state confirming teams can cross its border for matches even if travel restrictions for the broader public have not been relaxed by then.

Authorities in Queensland said the state's three teams will be able to host home games and play interstate.

"I said I was as keen as anyone else to see the NRL return and I meant it," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters.

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"The only condition was that it did not put our excellent work containing the spread of COVID-19 at risk and the chief health officer advises that the NRL plan is workable."

Without Queensland's green light, the state's teams would have had to relocate to New South Wales for an extended period, a prospect viewed dimly by some players who would be away from their families. Ten of the competition's 16 teams are based in NSW.

A May 28 start would make the NRL one of the first leagues in the world to resume competition but some obstacles remain.

The competition's sole New Zealand-based team has yet to gain approval to travel to Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.

The Auckland-based New Zealand Warriors have agreed, in principle, to base themselves in Tamworth, in rural NSW, to allow the competition to go ahead.

The Melbourne Storm team, based in Victoria state, may also be forced to relocate to NSW if state authorities decline to ease travel curbs.

The NRL, which warned of a financial "catastrophe" before suspending the season after two rounds in March, has lobbied hard to get the competition running again.

Its progress is being closely watched by Australia's other frozen professional sports.

Virtually all sport in the country was brought to a standstill in March due to COVID-19 but the professional leagues are hopeful social distancing restrictions may be eased soon as the numbers of new infections dwindle.

Morrison said the government would review emergency curbs next Friday, rather than wait another week as originally planned.

Australia has reported about 6,700 cases of the new coronavirus and 93 deaths, well below the levels reported in the United States and Europe.

When sport resumes in Australia, it is likely to do so at closed stadiums.

Government guidelines released by the Australian Institute of Sport on Friday said elite sports should recommence "in a spectator-free environment" for the forseeable future due to the "risks associated with large gatherings."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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