The biosecurity and pandemic expert hired by the NRL to assess the risk coronavirus posed to it has suggested the competition will not return in 2020.
The NRL was indefinitely suspended after two rounds earlier this week at the expert's recommendation despite putting several measures in place to keep the competition running.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, the expert gave a chilling warning as to why she recommended the competition be brought to a screeching halt.
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"It's the calm before the storm — but that storm is coming," she says of the coronavirus gripping the planet. "What if one of your players gets sick and dies? Is it worth taking the risk of losing a player in the prime of their career?
"That perception that it's mild, it's not a problem, is not correct. Young people have died. Children have died in this epidemic. It's not always a mild disease. A lot of people who are younger who are filling up the ICUs in the United States, even in NSW, a large number of the cases are in the 30s age group.
"If it's spreading in young people, the players are getting together every week for the games, congregating in groups creates a risk of transmission because one of them has asymptomatic infection, they could spread it and then the families and other loved ones, staff, doctors, physios and other teammates could get it."
The NRL hired the expert on March 14 to assess whether the competition could go ahead. Since then, she has been in daily contact with the NRL and on Monday delivered her findings to NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg. On the advice available, the Australian Rugby League Commission made the considered decision to halt the competition.
Early in the process, she recommended the NRL could go ahead with matches played behind closed doors provided players self-isolated and maintained social distance. However, that was no longer appropriate given how big the pandemic has become in the past fortnight.
When asked by the Sydney Morning Herald about when the competition might be able to resume, the expert gave a bleak outlook for the year ahead.
"I don't think it's going to be this year," she said. "I think we will be dealing with this epidemic for the better part of this year. I'm really hoping we will have a vaccine next year.
"The idea is to manage the catastrophic disruption to society until we can vaccinate people and protect them. Then we can resume normal societal functions — like sport. But that won't be any time this year."