Couch awaits as V’landys eyes next hurdle

Peter V’landys will celebrate the NRL’s return on Thursday night by taking his spot on his couch in Sydney alongside his son.

For two hours he and seven-year-old Nicholas will be like any other father-and-son football fans as they watch Brisbane play Parramatta.

On Friday, potentially after a rare full night’s sleep, the ARL Commission chairman will press on with his next big task.

That being to ensure the NRL is vastly better equipped to cope if it ever faces another crisis like that provoked by the coronavirus.

“The greatest challenge is to have a cost structure that is affordable,” says V’landys.

“Building assets for the game, so that if we’re ever through this situation again we’ve got revenue coming from another source.

“We’ve just got to have a good solid asset backing, including cash so we can sustain ourselves under any sort of challenge.

“That’s what this proved. Because we have got no assets, and we have limited cash, that we couldn’t sustain the challenge.”

Ever since March 15 when V’landys warned of catastrophic financial impacts that awaited them, the NRL has engaged in a battle.

Not just for its return from the shutdown, but for its very survival as the current 16-team competition.

Everything from players’ unions, flu jabs, referees associations, club relief packages, the exit of an NRL CEO and hard-fought broadcast negotiations required Vlandys’ attention.

And that’s before winning over three state governments with a bio-security plan and a federal department to allow the Warriors to enter the country.

“I didn’t expect it to be an easy path to the 28th May,” V’landys said.

“And if I thought that, I’m not only an idiot, but I would be the George Costanza Lord of the Idiots.”

It took V’landys a little over a week after the shutdown to be certain the game could return this year, and well ahead of time, despite many doubters.

He began following the rates of virus infection and did so methodically.

Regularly, in interviews, he would quote the daily drop in infection rate.

“Statistically I did all the analysis and it pretty well went down every day,” V’landys said.

“And I am thinking to myself we have to restart here, because this infection rate within a couple of months is going to be below one per cent.”

Project Apollo was set up under ARLC director Wayne Pearce.

“I said to Wayne ‘you need to get us back’,” V’landys said.

“I could not have got a better person than Wayne Pearce, because I can see why he was a champion rugby league player.

“You give him the ball and he will win the game for you. He was just dogmatic.”

The key turning point was an April 8 letter from the NSW Police Commissioner allowing the game to return provided there was a safe workplace.

The following day, Project Apollo signed off on the May 28 restart target.

V’landys and the NRL timed their run with the Queensland and Victorian governments.

They waited until infection numbers dropped further, overturning initial blowback and criticism for not presenting a plan earlier to eventually bring the game back in their states.

“It was all about timing,” V’landys said.

“It wasn’t about being disrespectful.

“I didn’t want to go to the Queensland government until the infection rate was at a point where I could prosecute my case.”

The same approach will be taken with governments about V’landys’ bold ambition to get crowds back at matches from July 1, provided there is no second spike in the next fortnight.

He is confident the code’s strict biosecurity guidelines will act as the “belts and braces” to ensure no players are infected.

And even if one does become complacent and catches the disease, V’landys believes the protocols in place ensure there is minimal chance of a game being lost.

“We will pick it up very early if they have symptoms,” V’landys said.

“That way they will be isolated away from the team … We’re not expecting to lose any games.”

Beyond that, the sport must be stabilised.

Teams are losing money while their leagues’ clubs remain affected by the social distancing limits, while it is likely there will still be some drop in TV money in the reworked deal.

V’landys is hopeful there will be minimal drop in next year’s salary cap, but the club football departments cap will be slashed.

And at head office, the saving must begin.

“We’re going to cut the expenses and use whatever savings we make to redirect it to make sure the clubs stay viable,” V’landys said.

“We’ve already got Gary Weiss on our board who is an expert in this area, where he has already made millions of dollars for companies and charities.

“And he has some of the best business brains with him in Nick Politis, Karl Morris and Bart Campbell.

“You’ve got a pretty formidable team there I am going to rely on them.

“They keep telling me that we need the money first, so I am going to find them the money.”

First though, will be a night on the couch with Nicholas.

A son eagerly awaiting the return of his Sydney Roosters on Friday night, whose passion is the reason V’landys says he does the job.

And a father who grew up a St George fan but is now more interested in whether controversial new rules he pushed through can liven up play.

“It makes the return a little more exciting and stressful for me because you have the one referee and six-again rule,” V’landys said.

“I just hope it does become more entertaining and we have done something for the fans.”

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