Newcastle Rugby League competitions for all grades will not proceed in 2020 without crowds after clubs this week unanimously supported a board decision.
The call was confirmed by Newcastle RL chief executive officer Matt Harris on Wednesday with long-term viability one of the key concerns for stakeholders.
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"It was a decision of the [Newcastle RL] board that our competitions could not proceed if social gathering restrictions remain in place," Harris told the Newcastle Herald. "All clubs supported this decision."
It means any Newcastle RL games going ahead later this year will hinge on government restrictions in relation to mass gatherings amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
However, even if crowd limits were lifted to as high as 500, Harris said that would be "insufficient" for the season to start on the July 18 date put forward by NSW Rugby League last week.
If non-essential mass gatherings were given the green light between now and then, and an abbreviated 10-round campaign was to get off the ground, Harris said there would be a substantial cut to the salary cap.
Newcastle RL are set to review public health orders throughout next month and deliver a final verdict by early June at the latest.
"There are basically two scenarios left now," Harris said. "Either there's no [Newcastle RL] competitions at all or there's a shortened season from mid-July."
Harris said taking this stance wasn't simply about protecting player payments.
"It was about the financial viability of the district clubs for this year, 2021 and beyond," he said.
"Without crowds there's too much risk there to push ahead just to get a game in and we don't want to put any clubs at risk."
Harris said sponsorships had already been impacted "significantly" because of the COVID-19 outbreak and clubs "still needed to generate revenue on game day".
In terms of individual financial incentives, during the week Cessnock halfback Connor Kirkwood told the "I'd be happy to play for free" while Macquarie coach Steve Kidd said "players can't be expected to play for nothing".
Eliminating remuneration completely creates other issues according to Harris.
"You could have a situation, depending on who decides to play, where 15 first graders are playing against four first graders and that doesn't make for an even competition," he said.
Lower grades - reserves, opens, under 19s and women's Blues Tag - won't proceed in the absence of a first-grade competition.
"That question was thrown up by clubs but we took a holistic approach," Harris said. "If we pull the pin then it's all competitions."
Concerns were also raised about the "health and safety of volunteers" and if any matches eventually went ahead, Harris said they would more than likely be subject to stringent safety protocols.
Meanwhile, NSWRL operations manager Bert Lowrie said on Wednesday that Newcastle Hunter Community Rugby League and Group 21 competitions are continuing to plan for new-look seasons starting later this year.
Lowrie said NSWRL wanted to see as many of the state's 100,000 players, made up of 80 percent juniors, "on the park" at some stage in 2020.
Mid North Coast-based Group 3 cancelled their senior competitions over the weekend but Lowrie said negotiations had been "re-opened" to "explore" other options.
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