Plans by NRL powerhouse Melbourne Storm to move its training base to Albury have suffered a setback with the local council voting to oppose the team’s relocation.
- The New South Wales Government had given the team permission to relocate and escape Victoria’s pandemic restrictions
- The councillors voted against the plan, angry they had not been consulted
- The Melbourne-based NRL team is going ahead with its plans and will train at the Albury Sports Ground
But the club said it would go ahead with its plans after securing the use of the Albury Tigers’ home ground.
At an extraordinary meeting tonight, the Albury City Council voted to formally oppose hosting the Victorian team.
The New South Wales Government had given the team permission to relocate to the border city to escape Victoria’s pandemic restrictions.
But Albury councillors are angry they were not consulted and want to prevent the team using council facilities.
Councillor Alice Glachan said there could not be one rule for an NRL team and another for the community.
“Regretfully I cannot support them being able to come and do things that our normal members of our community are unable to do at this present time,” she said.
The team was due to start training at Albury’s Greenfield Park from Wednesday after being given clearance by the State Government.
The decision will prevent the team from training at any council-managed facilities.
However, it does not stop Melbourne Storm from using any private gyms and ovals.
Instead, the team will train at the Albury Sports Ground after uncertainty over the availability of the city’s rugby league ground forced the club to look for alternatives.
“We’re looking forward to a very good week of training in Albury as we get 2020 back on track,” said Storm CEO Dave Donaghy.
“The initial camp from today [Tuesday] through to the weekend will inject tens of thousands of dollars back into the local economy.
“We’re using the services of a range of local facilities, including our motel, which will gain 200 extra bed nights at a very difficult time.”
Council facilities off-limits
Councillor Amanda Cohn, who is also a local doctor, told the council meeting that sporting teams should not be exempt from lockdown rules.
“Many of our members have made tremendous sacrifices to keep the infection rate so low in Albury Wodonga. We’ve only had 11 cases,” she said.
“People have lost their jobs, people have lost their businesses, people are unable to participate in their own community sport, they’re unable to attend weddings and funerals.
“I’m not willing to bet the lives of my most vulnerable patients on NRL players following rules, especially given recent news regarding other clubs in the franchise with due respect to the Melbourne Storm.”
Mr Donaghy said strict health and biosecurity protocols had been put in place by the NRL and were endorsed by one of Australia’s leading biosecurity experts, Associate Professor David Heslop.
Albury Mayor Kevin Mack supported the Storm’s visit.
“It’s folly to suggest that closing the door on them in this case would not send a message to the rest of the country that we’re open for business,” he said.
“I really think that we haven’t really considered the long–term impacts.”
Council informed on Saturday
Earlier, Albury City Councillor David Thurley said some councillors who were not happy with the decision to allow the club to relocate to the region would voice their concerns at the meeting.
“Albury council didn’t get involved until Saturday afternoon when a phone call was made to the Mayor, and that was the first that we really found out about these plans,” Mr Thurley said.
He said he was concerned for both the safety of the community and the confusion the double standards in rules caused.
“This is not a virus that decides ‘I do well in Victoria and not so well in New South Wales’. It is everywhere and we need uniformity and not double standards,” he said.
“I am probably a little more reassured about the safety after the briefing we had last night, but I am not totally reassured.”
Mr Thurley said if the move did still go ahead after tonight’s meeting he wanted to see strict rules put in place.
“In fact, my challenge to Melbourne Storm if it ends up happening is one breach and you’re all out.
“I don’t want any player getting a fine or suspension or sent back home for being a naughty boy. One breach and you’re all gone.”
Mr Thurley said he understood border residents’ frustrations that they were unable to participate in sport and other activities, but that an interstate NRL club could use local facilities.
“The only argument you can make is that this is employment and there are slightly different rules around employment,” he said.
“But I think that’s a fairly weak argument in my opinion.”
But Mr Thurley admitted he did not know if that would have any impact in stopping the club from setting up its training camp in the city.
“We’re waiting on a report from our chief executive officer,” he said.
“Given they have approvals from the NSW Government, and if they can find a place to play, I’m not sure the councillors have any power to stop them.”