Barilaro looks to the regions to offer NRL a lifeline

NSW Deputy premier John Barilaro says the Berejiklian government's regional sport and recreation centres could house Queensland and New Zealand NRL players as he continues his push for the season to resume.

Mr Barilaro, who has previously strongly urged anyone against visiting the bush amid the coronavirus crisis, said the state's 11 sport and recreation centres could "absolutely" be used for the NRL.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro is working on a plan to use regional sport and recreation centres for NRL players.Credit:AAP

The government has confirmed that it received a request from the NRL for the New Zealand Warriors to use its Lake Ainsworth Sport and Recreation Centre at Lennox Head.

Mr Barilaro said the regional centre would enable the players to isolate before playing.

"It is a completely enclosed facility and there would not be public access," Mr Barilaro said.

"But we can't grant that request [at this stage] because it is still an issue for Border Force in terms of letting them [the Warriors] into Australia."



The New Zealand government has granted the Warriors an exemption to travel to Australia and the team is hoping to arrive in Australia on May 3.

Mr Barilaro said the government-owned centres could also be used for the Brisbane Broncos, the Gold Coast Titans and the North Queensland Cowboys if Queensland borders remained closed.

All the sport and recreation centres are in regional NSW.

The Nationals' leader has made it his personal crusade to have the NRL season resume as early as next month and has said rugby league was the "tonic" that people needed during the COVID crisis.

“For me, the NRL is an opportunity as a state and nation to start the process of recovery. I can assure you that we want to work with the NRL," Mr Barilaro told Nine News.

"Government has a role here. I’ve had a conversation with the Premier that if the NRL can put forward its measures, its protocols, we will work with them to get through this season."

Mr Barilaro said he was working with other clubs, and had asked them for proposals about where they could also isolate before playing games in NSW.

Another passion of Mr Barilaro's has been to urge Sydneysiders to stay away from the regions, pleading with them to tell regional friends and family they would not see them before Christmas.

Mr Barilaro has stressed that the much-needed tourism recovery in the bush following the drought and bushfires had to be shelved to ensure regional hospitals were not over-run.

But Mr Barilaro said using regional sport centres for isolating NRL players was a "very different thing" because they would be travelling for work, which is still permitted.

"People are allowed to travel to the regions for work so this would be no different because it is a job for the players," Mr Barilaro said.

A senior Liberal MP said Mr Barilaro had been "freelancing" on the issue of the NRL and his involvement was not sanctioned by Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Several ministers, including Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, have said they would like to see the return of the league season, but only if health advice indicated it was safe.

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