A handful of NRL players remain unvaccinated against Covid-19, but the RLPA says it is “optimistic” that no one will be forced out of the league.
The Rugby League Players Association remains “optimistic” that unvaccinated players will not be lost to the NRL as the league braces for impact in the third year of the pandemic.
According to RLPA chief executive and former NRL star Clint Newton, nearly 99 percent of first-class players have been vaccinated against Covid-19, but a handful have still refused to get the shot.
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The NRL has not imposed a vaccine mandate and neither NSW nor the ACT have implemented “no jab no play” rules for athletes.
However, restrictions introduced by the Victorian government last year mean that unvaccinated players will be banned from the interstate and players from the state will not be allowed to train or play at club facilities.
Queensland has chosen not to impose a general mandate, but stadiums with a capacity of 5000+ require all attendees, including players, to be vaccinated.
The regulations have cast doubt on the playing future of the less than 10 players who have not been vaccinated, including 2016 Dally M medalist Jason Taumalolo and Melbourne Storm Prime Minister Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
While Newton said he remained “optimistic” that players would not follow Bulldogs recruit John Asiata from the NRL, he admitted their entry into the 2022 season could pose challenges.
“It will largely depend on state government regulations and also stadium restrictions in place,” Newton told SEN.
“The players who don’t stay vaccinated, there is a framework that clubs have to work through and players are aware of that.
“We are still optimistic to make sure we don’t see other players leave the NRL.
“We definitely think that would be a real shame for everyone as I think we can get through it.
“But I think that’s still a work in progress with some players.”
Newton said he was encouraged by the willingness of players to roll up their sleeves, even without the kind of jab mandate imposed by the AFL.
“The positive for the whole game is that we are in some numbers (of unvaccinated players),” he said.
“I think one of the most important things here is that with no mandate, almost 99 percent of the players have been vaccinated.”
Covid-19 outbreaks continue to disrupt pre-seasons in the league, but Newton said players who tested positive recovered well ahead of the NRL season, which starts on March 10.
“Players are recovering and they will be available for trials and for the season,” he said.
Newton said playing professional sports in the midst of a pandemic was “not without its risks”.
“The NRL has developed a return to training and play mandate, which we certainly support, to ensure we monitor players who have had Covid and make sure they return as safely as possible,” explains Newton.
“There are some challenges, but we are certainly optimistic that none of the players will be so badly affected that they cannot get on the field this year.”