THE Newcastle Knights could be back on the field within seven weeks.
Just 17 days after being forced to suspend the season because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NRL announced on Thursday ambitious plans to resume operations next month.
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"I'm pleased to announce we are aiming for a competition start for May 28," NRL innovation-committee head Wayne Pearce told media.
"The details of the competition structure we haven't got to yet, because the landscape is changing very quickly.
"Why we want to firm up a date is to give certainty to players and their schedules, clubs and thousands of people who are out of work.
"It's a mark for everyone that's associated with the game to work towards."
Despite speculation about the need to quarantine players in isolation "bubbles", away from the general public, Pearce said the NRL were now "leaning towards a competition structure that looks more aligned with what we're currently got".
In other words, players might be allowed to return to their homes and families after attending training sessions and games.
Some media outlets reported that the new season was likely to be 15 rounds, two of which have already been played, plus four weeks of play-offs and a three-match State of Origin series, played on weekends.
Other reports suggested the governing body would come under pressure from broadcasters to play a full 22-round season.
All games appear certain to be played behind closed doors, in empty stadiums.
Players have continued training in isolation since the competition shut down and have been given programs to follow by strength-and-conditioning staff.
But as senior Newcastle forward Tim Glasby noted this week, all teams would need to resume full-contact training for several weeks before they were physically ready for games.
"We can't have any contact at the moment, and that would be a big one, I'd say," Glasby said.
"That always takes a bit of building up, probably about a month. If you were to go straight into games without enough contact training leading into it, there'd be a lot more injuries."
Glasby added that players needed a reasonable preparation period to deliver a decent spectacle.
"The heavy impact would be a concern, and also I suppose soft-tissue injuries," Glasy said.
"We're still training, but it's not the same as footy-related training. It's not running with the ball, going flat-chat while people are chasing you, so there'd be a risk of soft-tissue injuries, just because your body hasn't done it for a while.
"You'd need a bit of a run into it before you do start playing, and not just because of injuries, but also because I think the quality of the games wouldn't be as good.
"If you've got blokes that have barely touched a footy and you throw them into a game, it's likely to be scrappy, with balls on the ground and missed tackles because your timing is out.
"It wouldn't be the best game to watch, so hopefully they give us enough time to prepare properly."
In saying that, the Queensland Origin representative and 2017 grand final winner declared he was willing to do whatever it takes to get the game back on the field, even if that meant living in a quarantined environment, separated from his young family.
"To be away from your family for a period would be tough, but people do that all the time," he said.
"I'm prepared to do that if that's what needs to happen to get the season back up and running, and I'm sure a lot of other players will feel the same, as long as it's safe for everyone. You don't want to put anyone at risk."
Having won their first two games of the season, the Knights were alarmed by reports that those would not count when the season resumes. But it now appears they will retain their points, whatever the revised format.