Australia NRL clubs anxiously awaiting COVID-19 player bubble decision for 2021 season
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NRL clubs are on standby as they wait for the ARL to make a call on whether players will need to enter a biosecurity bubble ahead of the 2021 season.
With Queensland lifting border restrictions imposed on residents in Greater Sydney at the start of February, the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) is hopeful that the competition remains on track with few restrictions on players.
But a Melbourne hotel quarantine worker's COVID-19 case is keeping authorities on high alert.
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Last year, players were not allowed to attend public venues such as pubs, clubs, and cafes, and were only allowed to leave their homes for training and games in accordance with the NRL's Project Apollo protocols.
RLPA chief executive Clint Newton said the association would support players who decided to pull out of the season because of potential bubble rules.
"We want to make sure that we are prioritising their wellbeing — mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually — because these situations impact people differently," he said.
"We have to make sure that we are strategic and sophisticated with how we manage them on a case-by-case basis.
"If someone needs time out during that period, we need to respect that and provide a psychologically safe environment for people to put their hand up if they are struggling so we can try and mitigate some of the challenges.
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"A decision on the bubble will be made based on the transmission rate within the community and the guidance from the expert medical panel that the NRL engaged last year."
In 2020, the New Zealand Warriors left their loved ones and relocated to Terrigal to keep the season alive.
The Melbourne Storm spent several months on the Sunshine Coast, and some players relocated their families for the season.
Uncertainty challenging for players
Sports psychology consultant Jo Lukins worked with the North Queensland Cowboys, Women's Maroons, and the Adelaide Lightning in the WNBL to make the bubble measures as comfortable as possible.
Dr Lukins said the uncertainty caused by the pandemic was challenging for players.
"Most people don't like a life that feels out of control and unpredictable, and they are the times that we are in at the moment," she said.
"It's tricky to know what's going to happen — a crystal ball would be amazing.
"It's more about how we respond to it and that's a message that I've always had with athletes, before any pandemic came along, that we can only control our reactions to situations.
"I think we've all gotten better at the world changing in front of us and having to adapt to it.
"That's a resilient skill that many people have developed."
Cowboys hooker Reuben Cotter said a decision on the bubble was not far from players' thoughts.
"That's in the back of people's minds, with the decision hanging around," he said.
"If that's an option then that's what we will have to do, just like last year.
"We just have to get along with it and play footy."
The NRL said it expected to finalise biosecurity protocols in the coming weeks.
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