The NRL is prepared to accommodate the small number of players who are continuing to hold out against getting the COVID-19 vaccination, in the belief the group’s risk to the competition is “low to nothing”.
The league has refused to follow the AFL’s lead and mandate vaccines, leaving clubs to navigate the 2022 pre-season and beyond with unvaccinated players on their books.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys said on Monday he believes the competition can now “work with” the current cohort of players still refusing the jab.
“I think people are really making a mountain out of a molehill. There are 15 players and that should reduce over time,” he said.
“We believe we can – like the government in NSW, allow for 95 per cent vaccination and the 5 per cent who don’t – you can work with it. The risk is low to nothing.
“So we are going in accordance with what the NSW government is doing. We can put processes in place where no one is at risk.”
Storm prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona has spoken out against receiving the COVID-19 vaccination.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
V’landys’ comments come at a time when clubs are trying to convince their final hold-outs to get the jab.
The Raiders, Storm, Bulldogs, Panthers, Cowboys, Manly and the Titans have all flagged players who are vaccine hesitant. The NRL is set to release a more formalised jab policy in the coming weeks.
The issue was made more complex last week after Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced only vaccinated people would be able to enter government-owned stadiums.
The public health order may be reviewed by next March but players refusing the jab will be forced to sit out games if it remains.
“As a rugby league family, we look after everyone. You can’t force people to do something they don’t want to do,” V’landys said.
On Sunday, Bulldogs football manager Phil Gould tweeted he was hopeful the club would be able to convince recruit John Asiata to get the vaccination. Bulldogs prop Luke Thompson recently got his first jab having previously been reluctant.
“I’d like to have him play for us. But if that’s not to be, we will look at our options,” Gould tweeted. “I know his reasons and I see where he has developed his concerns. We are trying to allay those concerns.
“He has apologised for the inconvenience and acknowledged what effect this will have on his football career.”
Rugby League Players Association boss Clint Newton said he hoped to be able to provide clubs with more information in the coming weeks around the protocols that will need to be put in place for unvaccinated players.
Newton said the player’s union was in agreement with the NRL that the game could work with the current number of unvaccinated players.
“The risk is just incredibly low,” he said. “It’s about creating a safe workplace and based on the high rates of vaccination in clubs, we will be working with the NRL and clubs on what is the most up to date medical advice…and implementing things that will provide the most minimal risk.”
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