NRL: Raiders players test positive for Covid-19, NRL reveals new pandemic crackdown

Two Raiders players and one staff member will have to isolate at home until after Christmas after returning positive Covid tests.

South Sydney returned to pre-season training in October, but have suffered a disrupted schedule since. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
South Sydney returned to pre-season training in October, but have suffered a disrupted schedule since. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Two Canberra Raiders players and one staff member will be isolated for Christmas after testing positive to Covid-19.

Coach Ricky Stuart would not reveal who the players were but confirmed both players are vaccinated. The staff member is unvaccinated.

Stuart said the players were feeling “ok” as they went through the recovery process.

The rest of the Raiders squad are due out of isolation on Wednesday night but Stuart said the infected players won’t be allowed to move outside their homes until after Christmas.

It comes in the wake of South Sydney’s Tom Burgess testing positive to Covid last weekend after a holiday in Byron Bay.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart confirmed the two players who tested positive to Covid were vaccinated. Picture: NRL Photos
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart confirmed the two players who tested positive to Covid were vaccinated. Picture: NRL Photos

Stuart would not say who the players were out of respect to their privacy.

“There are a couple of cases but I would rather keep the names private because it is not for me to be saying who it is, it is just a matter of steering the ship through it,” Stuart said.

The Raiders were one of three clubs that were forced to abandon pre-Christmas training earlier because of Covid cases along with the Rabbitohs and Knights.

The NRL has vowed to toughen its protocols when the teams return after the break, with chief executive Andrew Abdo revealing players can expect to be tested up to six times a week in the New Year.

Revealed: NRL’s new Covid-19 crackdown

NRL players will have to undergo rapid testing for Covid-19 up to six days a week from the moment pre-season training returns in January.

That will be a major part of tough new protocols NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo has revealed would be used to tackle the growing Covid crisis that is already crippling other major sports across the globe, including the English Premier League and the big American sports.

While Australia’s infection rates are nowhere near what they are in the United Kingdom and United States, that hasn’t stopped three NRL clubs, including South Sydney, Canberra and Newcastle, already being forced to abandon pre-Christmas training following separate Covid scares.

But because the Covid infection rate is expected to skyrocket come January, there is now a growing concern within the NRL community that the situation could develop into a farce in the countdown to the new season.

Souths front-rower Tom Burgess tested positive to Covid and mixed with players. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
Souths front-rower Tom Burgess tested positive to Covid and mixed with players. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has already warned the state could see as many as 25,000 positive cases a day by the end of January.

The Rabbitohs at least got some positive Covid news on Monday when it was confirmed all players and staff barring Tom Burgess had returned negative results from their initial tests.

This came after Souths were forced to return from a training camp at Latrell Mitchell’s Taree property on Saturday following confirmation Burgess had tested positive following a holiday at Byron Bay.

The entire group still have to undergo another test before they get the all clear to spend Christmas with their extended families, and they might not know those results until Christmas Eve.

The Rabbitohs were forced to abandon a pre-season training camp at Latrell Mitchell’s Taree property. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images
The Rabbitohs were forced to abandon a pre-season training camp at Latrell Mitchell’s Taree property. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

But it has certainly given all players and clubs a timely reality check about the impact one Covid contact can have on an entire club.

Abdo said the NRL was yet to finalise its protocols but there is no question it will include almost daily testing for players and staff when they return from their end-of-year break.

Basically it will mean that every time the team comes together they will first have to return a negative rapid test.

“It will be much more focused on prevention and early detention,” Abdo explained.

“So it will be all based on rapid testing before any training session or any time players and officials come together as a group.

“That way we can make sure that we don’t have big portions of the club, or potentially the whole club, going down in a close contact or as a contact situation.”

The Rabbitohs have been forced to abandon pre-Christmas training. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images
The Rabbitohs have been forced to abandon pre-Christmas training. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Asked how often players were likely to be tested, Abdo said “probably six days a week”.

Although he said it was unlikely the players would be forced to go back to living in a ‘bubble’-type environment like when the competition was relocated to Queensland.

“Hopefully not,” he continued.

“We certainly aren’t envisaging a situation where everyone is on protocols and we are trying to bubble wrap the players because that is not what the strategy is now in the country.

“This is about high vaccination rates, early detection and testing, as opposed to trying to stop the players interacting with people where the virus will be running.”

He said he’s been watching what is happening in other sports around the world, but that hasn’t dented his confidence in the NRL’s ability to again lead the way.

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo has outlined tough new protocols to handle the Covid-19 crisis and keep the NRL afloat. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo has outlined tough new protocols to handle the Covid-19 crisis and keep the NRL afloat. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

“The situation in the UK is obviously very different and they have a different set of challenges to what we do,” Abdo added.

“And the NFL have changed their policy now as well around testing, so it is pretty dynamic.

“We will be taking a close look at all of that, working very closely with the state governments, and in January when we have an official start to the new pre-season year we will have all our plans locked in and communicated to the clubs.

“We haven’t finalised exactly what it looks like and when, but we are working on that as we speak.

“It is pretty real time in terms of using all available information and it will probably change a few times as well.

“We will keep communicating with them over the break.

“For us, continuity of the competition is going to be critical again.

“It is going to be another challenging year where we are going to have to be using all measures available to make sure we keep everyone safe and we don’t lose games and we don’t lose large groups of players.

“I think the whole playing group and the clubs have shown a lot of discipline to the protocols we put in place and I am sure regular testing will be no different.”

Tom Burgess returned a positive Covid test. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images
Tom Burgess returned a positive Covid test. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

South Sydney chief executive Blake Solly was trying to maintain a positive outlook when questioned how about how difficult it was going to be to keep a team on the park amid the growing infection rate.

“I think we are all going to have to face it together,” Solly said.

“The game, the players, the clubs are going to have to face it, and I suppose use the same flexibility and ability to react as we have for the last two years.”

It has dramatically heightened concern about how the NRL will deal with the growing threat heading into the New Year, as cases skyrocket and the spread of the Omicron variant increases exponentially.

Given the fallout within the NRL community this past week with the numbers nowhere near Hazzard’s prediction yet, it could be a potential disaster when preseason training returns after the Christmas break — and counting down to the new NRL season.

He said the clubs would wait for directions from the NRL in respect to whether players will be forced back into a ‘bubble’ environment next year.