NRL reaches tentative pay deal, training set to resume

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Sydney (AFP)

Australia's National Rugby League said it had reached the basics of a pay deal with players on Tuesday, paving the way for limited training to resume.

Rugby league authorities have sprinted toward resuming play as quickly as possible -- floating a series of schemes in the hope of avoiding an extended disruption because of the coronavirus pandemic that could hurt the game financially.

"The playing group has confirmed their commitment to returning to official training tomorrow and approved a pay deal in readiness for the resumption of the Premiership," the NRL said.

Social-distancing restrictions are still in place Down Under, so "normal" full-contact training will not resume for another week at least.

But chairman Peter V'landys said: "It is full steam ahead for the resumption of the competition on May 28."

The pay deal will see "players guaranteed 80 percent of their contracted payments for the 2020 season" the NRL said.

V'landys was also hoping that being one of the first professional games to resume anywhere in the world will prove a boon.

"All eyes will be on the NRL as the only live sport on television. There will never have been more interest in rugby league than on May 28," he said.

Rugby league is little-followed outside Australia, the South Pacific and northern England.

For play to go ahead, players from two sides -- including the New Zealand Warriors -- have had to leave their families and relocated to rural team camps.

If any players test positive for COVID-19, the plan could yet be scuppered.

"Already we have seen several players with very mild symptoms sent for testing," V'landys said.

"This shows how seriously the clubs are taking our biosecurity protocols. Our players will be safer in the rugby league environment than they would be in the regular community."

Australia's has detected just under 7,000 cases of coronavirus, with new cases picking up slightly to around 20 a day after being close to zero.