As rugby league fans – and even greats like Cooper Cronk and Sam Burgess – rejoice in the mooted May 28 resumption of the NRL, St George Illawarra veteran James Graham is warning optimists not to count their chickens.
ARLC commissioner Wayne Pearce’s announcement on Thursday that the league hoped to continue the competition in seven weeks was met with widespread approval and relief.
Pearce said it was vital for the NRL to kick-start again as soon as possible not only for players and fans, but for the thousands of laid-off employees involved in the code in so many different ways.
But Graham, fresh off a Thursday phone hook-up with Rugby League Players’ Association boss Clint Newton, wasn’t so certain the game could simply “play on” through the COVID-19 outbreak like after a halftime break.
“I’d love to play tomorrow. I really would, but I understand there’s logistics involved in this. There’s health risks and all this,” Graham told Fox League Live.
“There’s more to getting rugby league games on than just getting 17 blokes against 17 blokes. There’s a lot to work through.
“Look, I was as excited as anyone (about the prospect of) getting back in, what, less than two months? But we’ve got to be real and keep a lid on this.”
Noting there was nothing predictable about the coronavirus pandemic, Graham called for players and fans to exercise caution about expecting a return so soon despite the spread of infections in Australia continuing to decline.
“This virus, there’s so much potential for it to kick-start again,” he said.
“Obviously the Easter period coming up in terms of maybe more people socialising and things like that, the brakes can be put on this at any point.”
Graham said while there was “a massive appetite” from players to resume again, there was also much legal red tape around payments and contracts to negotiate first.
“I think the players are willing to sacrifice a lot of things to get the product out there, to get the games back on again,” he said.
“It’s not about money. It’s about trying to find the right balance between a multitude of factors which are going to affect whether we can make this work.
“My interpretation with the phone call we had … there’s not even an actual proposal there to sign off on.”
Queensland State of Origin coach Kevin Walters, along with Cronk and Burgess, were all more upbeat about the NRL finding a way of restarting on May 28, as forecast following discussions with the NSW government.
“It’s fantastic. It’s on – Mission complete,” Burgess said of the NRL’s Project Apollo.
Pearce, though, cautioned that, unlike man first landing on the moon in 1969, the league had merely “landed on a starting date” – which could yet change.