A shortened international window at the end of the year may replace the Kangaroo tour as officials consider the possibility of playing State of Origin later in the season or even after the NRL grand final.
With uncertainty about this season’s schedule beyond the upcoming second round all options are being considered but the mid-year Oceania Cup Test between New Zealand and Tonga on June 20 appears set to be the first casualty of the coronavirus pandemic and the Kangaroo tour may follow.
While the NRL is planning for the competition to go ahead as scheduled, albeit without crowds for the time being, the Telstra Premiership could be suspended at some stage. Contingency plans are being drawn up that include anything from a 15-round competition to the full 25-week draw.
There is also the possibility that the Warriors may return to their homeland and could potentially not be able to continue playing due to the border restrictions brought in by the Australian and New Zealand governments.
State of Origin is the jewel in the crown for the game and the NSWRL, QRL and NRL will do everything possible to ensure it is played, preferably in front of full stadiums as gate receipts are valued at around $20 million and the series is worth up to $100 million in total.
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s warning that the ban on outside gatherings of more than 500 people could remain in place for six months makes it more likely that Origin would be played after the grand final.
Australia are due to play three Tests against England at University of Bolton Stadium on October 31; Elland Road, Leeds, on November 7; and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, on November 14 but the possibility of an extended NRL season could put paid to the tour.
There was also a proposal for the Kangaroos to play the Toronto Wolfpack in a double header featuring the Jillaroos against Canada Ravens, while a number of Super League clubs were keen on hosting Mal Meninga’s world champion Australian team.
A Test against France had also been mooted but a shorter tour comprising of the series against England may now be the best fans of the Kangaroos can hope for.
The worst-case scenario would be the cancellation of the first Kangaroo tour since 2003 but most in the game expect the NRL season to be extended beyond October 4, when the grand final is scheduled.
The Kangaroos are scheduled to meet New Zealand in Australia on October 17, with the Prime Minister’s XIII pencilled in to play Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby a week earlier.
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Officials would be keen for both those matches to proceed and if the Kangaroo tour were to be cancelled there could be the possibility of Australia playing in a revamped Oceania Cup.
The Kiwis are scheduled to play Tonga in New Zealand on June 20, with Samoa playing Cook Islands, but uncertainty about the impact of COVID-19 is set to put paid to the mid-season Oceania Cup fixtures.
The draw for the Oceania Cup has been announced as part of a full international calendar for 2020, and includes two rounds of matches at the end of the season, with the Kiwis to host Fiji on October 24.
Tonga are also scheduled to play Fiji on October 17, while Samoa, Cook Islands and Papua New Guinea will play in Pool B of the Oceania Cup.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.