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V'landys: Origin set for mid-year return as NRL gets 'back to normal'

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V'landys says the potential return of large State of Origin crowds in 2021 would mean the series shifts back to its regular mid-season slot.

This year's interstate series was moved to November following the outbreak of COVID-19 and NSW will be fighting to keep the series alive in game two at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday.

A crowd of 40,000 is permitted for the clash under COVID-19 restrictions. 

After a 25% drop in Channel Nine's ratings for Origin I in Adelaide last week, V'landys is anticipating a return to the regular May-July representative window next year, particularly if restrictions ease and allow for more game-day revenue to be generated from crowds.

Speaking on SEN's Breakfast with Vossy on Tuesday, he said the rescheduled Origin was the only option feasible in 2020, and a "more informed decision" on next year's fixturing could be made after Wednesday night's ratings and crowd turnout in Sydney.

Asked if the end of-year Origin format was expected to a be a one-off, V'landys said: "More likely that this will be the one and only time because the ratings weren’t very good.

"I know there’s been a few excuses, and we will see if those excuses are credible come Wednesday night when it’s a live rubber.

"I think once of the reason the ratings were down is that nobody gave Queensland a chance.

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"Anybody that’s followed rugby league, you always give Queensland a chance and they proved that again.

"But the reason we put the State of Origin at the end of the season was two-fold.

"One, because we’d reduced the number of rounds from 26 to 20, we wanted to give every club the opportunity to make the top eight without losing their best players mid-season to the State of Origin.

"But also if we ran it mid-season this year we wouldn’t have had a crowd and hopefully tomorrow night we’ll have 40,000 and that’s a big difference to our finances.

"We really had no option to run State of Origin at the end of this year. Next year’s a different story. If we’re able to have crowds again, mid-season is probably the right place.

"We’ll see what happens tomorrow night, if the ratings are substantial and how we go, then we will make an informed decision."

Maroons coach Wayne Bennett on Tuesday said he was happy with the return to mid-season Origin next year and added his preference was for teams to go into camp for a standalone representative period.

"It's logical that we go back to where it's been played all this time," he said.

"It's been good having everybody in the camps and not having to go somehwere else and not having to think about your club football, I think that should be the future of it."

Since 2018 one Origin match each year has been taken interstate, with Melbourne, Perth and now Adelaide hosting a clash each year.

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As has been the case every three years since 2006, Melbourne is due to host another Origin in 2021, though venues for next year's series are not expected to be confirmed for some time.

The Rugby League World Cup is also scheduled for next November in England however the tournament's viability is clouded by the UK's second wave of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, V'landys indicated the pandemic's financial impact on rugby league would cost in the "tens of millions, rather than hundreds of millions" thanks to the game's commitment to playing out a rescheduled season.

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That has resulted in every stakeholder from head office to broadcasters, players and fans make significant sacrifices, with V'landys confident biosecurity measures will be wound back to allow for a "normal" campaign in 2021.

"We’re going to go back to normal next season," V’landys said.

"We’ve experienced COVID, we know how to handle COVID, and I don’t think the protocols will be as strict.

"… If there is an outbreak of community transmission, we’ll need to increase our protocols again.

"But we’ve been through the worst of COVID in Australia with the protocols, and we’ve proven we can play while COVID’s there, and with community infections.

"The players are out of the bubble at the moment, they’ve sacrificed a lot this year and they’re having a well-earned holiday for the next few weeks.

"I don’t think the protocols will be as strict, with community infections being lower than they were throughout this year."

Meanwhile, the NSWRL has confirmed it will run a 10-team NSW Cup competition in 2021 in line with the NRL competition.

NSWRL head of football Robert Lowrie said the full home and away second-tier competition will kick-off the same weekend as the NRL.

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"We are really thrilled to be able to announce that our premier competition will go ahead after the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to cancel it this year," Lowrie said.

"The competition provides an important pathway to the NRL. Many open-age competitions operated in New South Wales during season 2020. Much was learnt about COVID-19 protocols and confidence was gained about the capacity to safely conduct competitions in a COVID-safe way. 

"We are therefore very confident of our ability to deliver all of our competitions safely and efficiently during the 2021 season.

"Additionally, we are working with an NRL representative from the Apollo Committee to construct bio-security protocols to mitigate risk and to enable player movement between the NRL and NSW Cup."