Glimpse into dystopian future as NRL and AFL sink into COVID-19 void

Pain barrier: John Bateman reacts after the Raiders lose the NRL grand final to the Roosters last year. Picture: Grant Trouville/NRL Imagery

Pain barrier: John Bateman reacts after the Raiders lose the NRL grand final to the Roosters last year. Picture: Grant Trouville/NRL Imagery

"We've moved on pretty quickly".

The go-to phrase for every scorned grand final loser is now completely redundant.

The Raiders, still feeling as physically green as their playing shirts when they hear the words 'six again', had made a faultless start to the new campaign.

The GWS Giants, still trying to find which way the Richmond truck went that ran over them at the MCG, had beaten the Tigers in pre-season, then punished Geelong in the 2020 opener.

And then the world changed, forever.

Players have agreed to have at least half their pay cut and there's the very likely prospect we'll see Christmas, before we'll see another premiership winner.

Like in the wider community, NRL and AFL athletes are sinking into the Coronavirus void.

Budgets are tight, exercise is limited and cautious.

A trip to the supermarket is creeping towards dystopia.

And while their sacrifices are relatively minor compared to the emergency and health personnel fighting on the front line, we're all looking at the reset button knowing it will be months before we can press it.

The NRL, conditioned to off-field controversy, in particular, can do some navel-gazing before the bean-counting realities hit.

Will the competition remain with 24 (NRL) or 22 (AFL) rounds, let alone with 16 or 18 teams?

Belt-tightening will slash salary caps and the capacity of sports accustomed to, or hopeful of, expanding.

Bottom's up: GWS Giants before last year's AFL grand final. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/AFL Photos/via Getty Images

Bottom's up: GWS Giants before last year's AFL grand final. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/AFL Photos/via Getty Images

The financial butterfly effect is taking hold, long before society finds its feet.

It was only weeks ago the NRL and chairman Peter V'Landys was making tentative steps towards a long-overdue second team in Brisbane.

Perth or PNG are now pipe-dreams.

Immortal Andrew Johns has already discussed the prospect of the NRL returning with 12 teams.

The amazing progress of the women's competitions is threatened.

This sort of radical thinking hasn't happened since the dark days of the Super League war.

Back then, it was spreadsheets at 20 paces as powerbrokers considered the best forms of merger and every fanbase was on edge, a process which spat out the St George Illawarra Dragons, Wests Tigers and the defunct Northern Eagles.

If you're still unsure how it might feel next year, just ask a South Sydney, or North Sydney, fan.

In contrast, the AFL have been significantly more successful nationally, but for every GWS there's a tragicomedy like the Gold Coast Suns, an ongoing money-pit in these uncertain times.

The world will change forever.

It will shrink in ways not seen since World War II.

And while the NRL and AFL grapple with what the post-COVID-19 climate will look like, the A-League and rugby union are just concerned about their relevance in the domestic market.

The Raiders were the original expansion success story when they famously beat Balmain in 1989, the Giants the latest by making it to the last Saturday in September, even if the trophy eluded them.

Footy will survive, but whoever wins, likely next year, will be kings of a vastly more insular game.

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This story Glimpse into dystopian future as NRL and AFL sink into COVID-19 void first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.