The NRL is unlikely to be fighting a vaccination battle on two fronts with the number of women’s players receiving the jab rapidly increasing in recent weeks.
There had been some concerns over the relatively low rate of vaccinated NRLW players, with their competition to start before their male counterparts.
That would have threatened to overshadow a landmark early-season women’s competition, which AAP can reveal will include its first standalone grand final.
However, the looming introduction of restrictions in Queensland – where two of the six teams are based – has resulted in the percentage of players across the league either booked in to receive their jab or at least partially vaccinated at 93 per cent.
That number is then expected to rise further in the next week.
Only those who are vaccinated will be able to train in Queensland stadiums when pre-season begins in January.
Matches in the final two rounds will also be played in Queensland, where only those who are vaccinated will be able to run out.
Rugby League Players Association chief Clint Newton was confident players would be largely vaccinated before the start of the season.
“It’s at a decent number, but it’s not where the NRL are at but that’s mainly to do with timing,” Newton told AAP this week.
“It’s important not to compare because the men are returning to training as early as last week while the NRLW pre-season starts in January.
“It has been a strong take-up rate to date and we’ll continue to work through that.”
It comes as the number of fully unvaccinated men’s players dropped below 20, with almost half of those believed to have had their first jab.
The NRL has not made vaccination mandatory, but clubs and the players’ union are working through stand-down and termination policies for players who cannot train or play.
“Given the fact the women are NRL-contracted players for a period of time we need to make sure that while they train and play they do so in a safe workplace and we are strongly recommending vaccination,” Newton said.
“At the same time it’s about working with players on a case-by-case basis and understanding the rationale and reasoning behind why someone is vaccine-hesitant or unwilling.”
Meanwhile, it’s understood the NRLW final will be played as its own event on April 10, with a stadium of NRL standing to host the match.
The NRL has not released times or venues for semi-finals and finals weekends, but a number of venues could be held in reserve to give a chance of a home-city decider.
The league’s decision to start with two Sunday afternoon triple-headers also means the majority of matches will be shown on Nine Network’s main channel.