Channel 9 has stuck the boot into the NRL for the second time this month in a fresh new statement that appears to have sunk the game's plans for a May 28 season restart.
Just one day after NRL innovations committee spokesman Wayne Pearce declared that a fresh round of discussions with broadcasters had given the NRL further fuel to push for a season re-start next month, Nine slapped down the proposed plan.
In a statement released on Thursday night the Nine Network said it was "premature" for the league to push ahead with a season restart when it claims no broadcast deal is in place for the 2020 season.
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Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V'landys had reportedly hoped to broker an agreement with Nine and Foxtel before the end of the week — but Nine's second scathing statement towards the game's top officials suggests the parties remain at logger heads.
It comes just a few weeks after Channel 9 launched a first scathing attack on the NRL and former CEO Todd Greenberg where the broadcaster accused the NRL of "squandering" millions in broadcast revenue.
Channel 9 rugby league reporter Danny Weidler on Thursday night described Nine's new attack as a "bombshell".
Nine's statement suggests the broadcaster is also yet to be convinced a season re-start would be in the best interest of NRL players.
"Although we agree constructive discussions have been held between the NRL, Nine and Foxtel, we feel it's premature to be confirming a start date at this stage," a Nine spokesman said.
"There is a great will to work together to an outcome but a lot of work still to do. A deal needs to be completed and the structure of the competition locked, which importantly must include how it will operate within the health-and-safety standards currently affecting the community."
The Sydney Morning Herald reports Channel 9 is still open to the season re-starting in May — but not while negotiations remain ongoing surrounding the reported three-year broadcast deal extension.
The existing deal expires at the end of the 2022 season.
Meanwhile, Players' union chief Clint Newtown has warned the NRL return date could still change as his association's athletes await further details around health measures.
Newton admitted he'd been left surprised by Pearce's declaration on Wednesday that May 28 had been reaffirmed as the start date, with confirmation training would start on May 4.
"We're going to keep working through it to get to those dates," he said.
"We've got a level of responsibility that anyone who is associated with the Project Apollo that when we come out of those meetings is a true reflection on where we landed.
"There is no definite start date. They are dates we are working towards.
"And the players are very much standing shoulder to shoulder with the clubs and game on trying to resume.
"But the reality is there are a number of hurdles that we still need to get over before players can resume training and start playing again."
The Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) wants further assurance around whether the usual medical support will be available for any player who gets injured.
The NRL has vowed to work with the RLPA on this.
Privately, clubs have some apprehensions about the dates.
They will receive draft biosecurity guidelines on Friday and would then have just six business days to get their training bases ready.
There were some chief executives disappointed they weren't given those measures in Wednesday's telephone hook-up.
Some have already looked at purchasing forehead thermometers but it remains unclear if extra equipment will have to be purchased.
Clubs know they can't ease into the process, with any potential health risks needing to be managed and the NRL set to police the matter.
— with AAP