AFL and NRL players have been given their first taste at what it is like to play in crowd-free stadiums as both competitions stepped up measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
- Richmond and Carlton kicked off the AFL season in front of an empty MCG
- The NRL began its second round of matches at Sydney’s Olympic stadium without any spectators
- Both competitions are hopeful of completing their seasons amid the coronavirus crisis
Both the AFL and NRL made the decision to play fixtures at empty venues last week following the Federal Government’s decision to ban mass gatherings during the coronavirus crisis.
Richmond supporters were forced to enjoy the Tigers’ 16.9 (105) to 12.9 (81) AFL win over Carlton at the MCG, while in the NRL North Queensland defeated Canterbury 24-16 at Sydney’s Olympic stadium.
The Tigers-Blues encounter has become the traditional AFL season opener at the MCG, with the well-supported clubs attracting crowds of 90,151 (2018) and 85,016 (2019) the past two seasons.
So it must have been a reality check for players on both teams, who have become accustomed to plying their trade in front of bumper gatherings.
Those in the media who were permitted to attend the MCG to cover the match — which only got the green light from the AFL 24 hours earlier — could not help but be taken aback by the lack of atmosphere.
ABC Grandstand boundary rider Tim Hodges described the scene from ground level just prior to the opening bounce.
“It is so weird, not a soul here,” Hodges said.
“I look across and the Great Southern Stand is empty, the Ponsford Stand is empty, the MCC (Members) is empty, the Olympic Stand is empty, apart from you guys up in the media box.
“The concourse is bare, the turnstiles are locked, the gates are shut.
“The restaurants, the food shops, the cafes are [all] closed, the bars are locked … these are normally heaving on this night. It is like a ghost town.”
Both the Tigers and Blues entered the playing arena on the MCG without the roar of their supporters greeting them, with only their respective team songs heard via the venue’s PA system.
Senior ABC Grandstand commentator Alister Nicholson said, “this is not footy as we know it”.
“The vibe is very different tonight,” Nicholson said.
“Usually we look up this close to the bounce and see the (Great) Southern Stand packed all the way to the fourth tier.”
Members of the public try to get a glimpse of the MCG from outside the venue. (AAP: Michael Dodge)
Nicholson’s sentiment were shared by many watching the TV broadcast at home.
Others — such as Brisbane Lions player Mitch Robinson — were shocked by how different the atmosphere was with no crowd inside the MCG, while some found humour in the situation.
Players and supporters will have to become used to matches being played without crowds, as the AFL bans spectators while it tries to cram as many fixtures as it can into its 2020 season.
The Tigers chose not to unfurl their 2019 premiership flag in the absence of their legion of supporters, as they comfortably triumphed over the Blues.
Four players — Jack Riewoldt, Daniel Rioli, Shai Bolton and Jason Castagna — kicked three goals for the Tigers, while two-time Norm Smith medallist Dustin Martin grabbed one major and 24 disposals.
NRL players learn begin self-isolation period
It was a similar story in Sydney, as round two of the NRL got underway.
The Bulldogs hosted the Cowboys in an empty Olympic stadium in Homebush a week after crowds were allowed to attend matches in the opening round of the minor premiership.
The Bulldogs and Cowboys got a taste of what it is like to play in front of no spectators. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
Interchange bench chairs for both teams were stationed a metre apart and the playing balls were washed every 10 minutes, with only 241 people — including the players — allowed inside the venue.
Cowboys fans may not have got to see Jason Taumalolo’s incredible performance in person, but they would no doubt have appreciated his display from home.
@ScottBailey video tweet: “Never thought we’d see anything like this. Extraordinary.”
The Cowboys forward produced a staggering 304 run metres and score a try for the visitors, who had dominated the first half to lead 22-6 at the break.
Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak
The match took place on the same day that the NRL announced it was introducing a self-isolation program for its players.
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys said only “essential interaction” between players and the general public would be allowed.
“The details of that self-isolation program will be worked out with the clubs and players, taking into account the biosecurity and pandemic experts advice,” he said.
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