JAMES MALONEY believes rugby league’s World Cup SHOULD be postponed – as Super League’s Covid-19 problems have shown.
Australia and New Zealand have sparked outrage by withdrawing from the tournament if it is to be held in England this year.
SunSport has learned it is possible to replace the holders and powerhouses with Indigenous and Maori sides, which several players Down Under want.
But Catalans ace and NRL legend Maloney feels the tournament has to be put back to 2022 as clubs here face not fitting in all their fixtures because of Covid call-offs.
He said: “With the way the world is, I find it quite ambitious for them to think they can run the competition. Games are going down in Super League left, right and centre.
“I don’t see how they thought they could get it on with the way things are at the moment and that somehow for that period of time no-one will test positive for Covid-19.
“For players in Australia and New Zealand, I completely understand the decision. They’ve already sacrificed a lot by being away from their families in bubbles with pretty tight restrictions.
“And if they were to come over, they’d be in a part of the world where there’s a much higher chance of them actually catching it.
“Throughout Super League, games are getting called off all the time. So if they come over for the tournament, there’s still a very real chance that could get disrupted and the whole thing thrown into disarray.”
Maloney hit back at suggestions it is really NRL clubs behind the controversial call, insisting: “Players at international level are the top echelon, not young rookies. They don’t have as much pull over senior players. I don’t think it’s that at all.”
Warrington prop Chris Hill, who played in England’s run to the 2017 final, also believes it should be put back.
He said: “I don’t think a World Cup can go ahead without two of the top nations.
“If we went on and won it, there would always be an asterisk beside England’s name as Australia and New Zealand didn’t participate.
“There’s been ideas tossed up about throwing an All-Stars team in but I don’t think that’s right. We should stick with Australia and New Zealand. Pushing it back a year would be my option.”
Hill’s Aussie club boss Steve Price, however, described the current reasoning as ‘wishy-washy’ while Wigan’s Adrian Lam, Australia’s assistant coach, insisted: “I’m not sure where it all stands with the exact detail why they’re not travelling.
“I presume it’s just the health and safety of the players. I know all the UK would love to see both teams here.
“But I’m sure it’s still ongoing, I’m not sure it’s dead and buried. If it is, it will be sad times for rugby league.”
World Cup chiefs are set to decide in the coming days whether to play on, postpone until 2022 or cancel the tournament completely.
Chairman Chris Brindley said: “The well-being of all those involved in the tournament, particularly players and team officials, have been the priority for the organisers.”
SunSport revealed how players were covered with 74 pages of detailed rules designed to make sure the tournament would be as safe as possible – which the Aussies and Kiwis rejected.
Now it can be told how organisers will look to get it added to the exempt competitions list, like Wimbledon, Euro 2020 and cricket Test matches, which means players would not self-isolate on arrival in the UK providing they complete a Public Health Passenger Locator Form in advance.
And even journalists would be covered in terms of post-match press conferences, which would only be held in an area deemed big enough to allow for social distancing requirements – they could even be over Zoom.
The 74-page document sent to countries adds: “All media must observe Social Distancing (minimum 2m) at all times, especially when in a group environment (press conference etc).
“RLWC2021 may limit attendance at matches to a maximum number of written, media, team media staff, radio and photographic personnel.
“Media must follow all RLWC2021 instructions at all times and shall maintain Social Distancing. No media will be permitted inside dressing rooms or the tunnel area.”
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Despite the anger and bemusement, the move has been backed by the Australian Government, even though sports minister Richard Colbeck is in talks with UK counterpart Nigel Huddleston.
He further explained: “The pandemic has led to many challenges for sport and its participants across Australia. It is even more difficult for those vying to compete internationally.
“I have maintained a dialogue with my UK counterpart Minister Huddleston to understand the context of the tournament being held in the United Kingdom while also conveying the perspective from an Australian point of view.
“Our discussions are ongoing.”
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Source: The Sun