COMMENT: Why Hull FC Covid outbreak means Super League needs NRL approach

WHEN news broke last night that at least eight players and coaches at Hull FC had tested positive for coronavirus it was met with utter shock and amazement.

Hull FC's Marc Sneyd kicks-off the game against Salford Red Devils. Five Hull players who took part have since tested positive for Covid-19. (Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

That, therein, is essentially the whole problem; people have generally started to feel this pandemic has largely been vanquished when it so clearly hasn’t.

This was the disaster waiting to happen that all Super League clubs - understandably desperate to restart to secure vital broadcast monies - will have feared but probably never truly thought would occur.

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With social distancing restrictions being eased across the country, it is easy to be lulled into complacency and the competition’s players, in essence, are no different to the rest of the population.

Yes, they are tested but - due to the great cost involved - only once per week and most clubs opt for Monday or Tuesday, receiving results late the following day.

Clearly, when a player tests negative, there are still four or five more days before a game on the following weekend and myriad everyday situations where it is possible to contract the virus.

They are only then told to follow standard Government guidelines.

Biosecurity measures in the NRL, however, are far greater than here in Super League.

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com - 09/08/2020 - Rugby League - Betfred Super League - Salford Red Devils v Hull FC - Emerald Headingley Stadium, Leeds, England - Sebastine Ikahihifo tackles Carlos Tuimavave.

For instance, players in Australia are largely banned from visiting cafes, restaurants and socialising in public situations to help reduce the risk of spread.

If they do not adhere to those rules there are punishments, as a number of players have already discovered.

Indeed, even South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett has had to pay the price for going out for lunch; he did not test positive but has been placed in self-isolation for 14 days after admitting the breach.

In the NRL, ‘bubbles’ are formed to limit any interactions with the public and players are essentially limited to their homes, training and games.

It is a sacrifice they have made to help ensure the sport goes ahead and perhaps Super League must now do something similar to keep this season alive.

Admittedly, the RFL did push through rule changes to help reduce the risk of spread, including getting rid of scrums, and that remains worthy.

However, more needs to be done off the field even if it asks yet more of players who have already taken significant pay cuts to get the game back on.

Thankfully, no members of the Salford Red Devils camp - who faced Hull at Emerald Headingley on Sunday - have seen positive test results.

But, still, due to the Government’s track and trace procedure, 11 players will now have to self-isolate for 14 days causing its own chaos.

That illustrates just how much contact there is in a game and one of the fundamental differences with football, a sport which returned much earlier and has seen hardly any positive tests let alone outbreaks of this scale.

Salford’s game against Catalans Dragons on Saturday and Hull’s match versus Castleford Tigers the following day have both been called off with a revised, further condensed, four-game fixture list instead published for this weekend at St Helens.

After just two weeks of action since resumption, it is a hammer blow for the competition and leaves so many questions unanswered.

But one of those questions is futile; it is pointless trying to play the blame game with how matters have unfolded at Hull.

Let’s not forget, a player or coach could quite simply have contracted Covid from a family member. No one will ever know.

All that is important is that those affected now safely recover.

If the sport - already on its knees financially after five months of inactivity - recovers is a different matter and there are some crucial decisions to be made in the coming hours and days, not least involving increased testing.

Revised fixture list

Saturday 15th

4.15pm – Wakefield Trinity v Catalans Dragons

6.30pm – Huddersfield Giants v Warrington Wolves

Sunday 16th

4.15pm – St Helens v Castleford Tigers

6.30pm – Wigan Warriors v Leeds Rhinos

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