Ashes series in doubt as rugby league prepares for extended lay-off

RUGBY LEAGUE has bowed to the inevitable and extended its sport-wide shutdown for an indefinite period.

England v Australia. Picture: SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ

The game was suspended at all levels eight days ago, initially until April 3.

But a meeting of Super League clubs, carried out via a conference call, yesterday accepted there is no possibility of the season resuming early next month and the layoff is likely to go on “considerably longer”.

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The clubs met, along with representatives of the Rugby Football League [RFL] less than 24 hours after the government announced strict new measures to keep people at home and limit the spread of Covid-19.

Australia’s NRL was suspended at the start of this week, after clubs there had initially hoped to continue their season behind closed doors.

With both competitions now looking set to be extended well into the autumn – and possibly early winter – the prospects of this year’s Ashes Test series taking place are looking increasingly remote.

A joint-statement issued by RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer and Super League executive chairman Robert Elstone avoided setting any date for a possible resumption.

It said: “With the country having taken such unprecedented measures, the primary focus and priority for all has to be the public health emergency – an approach that is equally applicable for our overseas clubs.

“Rugby league clubs are deeply embedded in their communities and we are committed as a sport to following government advice and doing all we can to promote the importance of physical and mental health – for our supporters, players and colleagues.

“In line with the approach announced by the UK government [on Monday night], we will regularly review the situation regarding the possibility of resuming fixtures and remain as flexible as possible, in consultation with other partners and with the key considerations of financial sustainability and player welfare.”

Rimmer added: “We will also be updating other sections of the game with the latest thinking regarding the suspension of the season, as the sensible approach is clearly to continue working on various scenarios while acknowledging the suspension is going to be considerably longer than the three-week period we had initially confirmed.

“The key for the sport is to continue acting in a collegiate, united and positive way.”

Elstone said Super League and its clubs are “working round the clock to prepare ourselves for the challenges ahead and to ensure the sport is in the best possible place for when life returns to normal”.

He insisted: “Our priorities are the health of our players and staff and the economic well-being of our clubs. We welcome the government’s proposals to help businesses and in partnership with the RFL we are exploring all the options available to us.

“We are also keeping close to all our partners and, in particular, offering all our support to Sky Sports.”

Elstone went on: “Most of all, we are sticking together and looking out for the health of our families, friends and colleagues. Our sport has enviable values that stem from the behaviours and attitudes of all of us. These will be essential to emerging strong at some point in the near future.”