DISBELIEF was likely the first emotion for Hunter football fans when news broke on Saturday that State of Origin III would not be played at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Wednesday's news that Newcastle would host the match came within a week of the game itself. Tickets were due to go on sale on Monday, with a head start for Knights members.
In the aftermath of Saturday's shock decision to shift the match to the Gold Coast, the club said it would reach out to those who had signed up since the game's Hunter venue was confirmed.
Other preparations included a comprehensive plan for the evening in case some defied the public health orders.
State of Origin's arrival had understandably been hailed as a "major coup" by the city's leaders earlier in the week, with supporters including deputy premier John Barilaro.
In normal times it would have been an unequivocal success, but Saturday gave us a clear reminder these are not normal times.
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The pages of this newspaper have detailed understandable concerns about double standards of a large event as regional NSW grappled with COVID-19 restrictions as a consequence of Sydney's outbreak. Statewide case numbers climbed, hitting 77 and one death on Sunday.
The question is, what changed in three days? The NRL was clear the NSW government had advised on Saturday it would not allow "a major event with a crowd" days after announcing just that. While Sydney's restrictions had tightened further on Friday, the dangers of this outbreak were well known on Wednesday. Tim Tszyu's fight, as well as rugby league matches in recent weeks, have been open to crowds of thousands. On Sunday they were yet to be connected to any cases; an achievement given how easily the delta variant transmits, but not a guarantee of future success on that front.
Disappointment at losing the game, as well as its economic benefits, is certainly understandable. An abundance of caution is much harder to criticise than a lack of it, though. Restrictions cannot be relied upon when 106 infringements are handed out within 24 hours. Hopefully Turton Road's chance will come again, but at least NSW have clinched the series.
For now, it is clear that controlling COVID is more than a game.
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