- To access all of your local news, visit newcastleherald.com.au directly. Our home page is updated with the latest headlines from across the region and the nation.
- You can even stay up to date by clicking here and signing up for free to our newsletters.
- If you value local journalism, support us by subscribing here
- To download the Newcastle Herald app, click here
Knights chief Phil Gardner has defended the club's decision not to travel to Victoria for a trial against the Storm, saying they had "to put the health and safety of our players and their families, and the game, before any self-interest from Melbourne".
The February 27 trial, featuring NRL and NSW Cup games, has been moved from Casey Fields to Albury Sportsground after the Knights deemed it too risky to travel to Melbourne after COVID cases sparked a five-day lockdown.
The decision comes despite the Newcastle Jets travelling to play Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park in the A-League on Sunday and the Australian Open tennis continuing nearby.
Storm CEO Justin Rodski said on Thursday that "it's obviously disappointing the Knights have decided not to travel to Melbourne for this trial - for our members fans and for our players".
On Friday, Gardner responded, saying "there was no option given what's happened in Melbourne for the five-day lockdown and the premier has come out and said, quite rightly, that if it happens again they will be locked down again".
"We simply can't put our players and their families, and our team and our community, at that sort of risk."
Gardner said "it was a terribly difficult decision for us because we are disappointing a lot of people" but he rejected a suggestion the call may have been made too early.
"I think we had no other decision," he said.
"If you look at what we went through and what the families went through last year, to even have the smallest amount of risk that our players and their families and close contacts could be put into quarantine for a period of 14 days, and given Queensland are saying it's a 28-exclusion to go to Queensland, it's not only the right thing for our club and our players, it's the right thing for our game.
"We have to treat this particular situation around COVID with an abundance of caution which is what we're doing, so I think the Storm understood.
"At the end of the day, it's very important to us that our lead-in to the next season is not obstructed with any potential for us to be put into lockdown ourselves, so it became a very easy decision."
IN THE NEWS:
Gardner said the Knights gave the Storm the option of moving the games to McDonald Jones Stadium.
"We checked the stadium was available and we would have loved for them to come here, but it was their game under the agreement that we had so we're happy to go to Albury," he said.
Asked if the games would have more tension because of Newcastle's decision, he said: "No. I think that the Storm are renowned for being very aggressive. They've invented the wrestle tactics, all the things that we've seen, I don't think it will be any different to what we would normally see.
"Our guys will up there and up for the fight and I'm sure the Storm will be the same."
He said the NSW Cup game could also feature the Warriors, who had "players at a loose end". Other matches could also be added.