CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - MAY 25: Josh Papalii of the Canberra Raiders is tackled during the round 11 NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the North Queensland Cowboys at GIO Stadium on May 25, 2019 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)

NRL 360 panelists Cooper Cronk and Paul Kent are adamant that players shouldn't be surprised if financial penalties and increased biosecurity protocols are enforced on players who don't get vaccinated.

The pair's shared view was raised after host Yvonne Sampson reported that the NRL are still working on a vaccine rollout for players.

"The NRL are working on a strategy to roll out the vaccine for NRL players and staff at clubs," She stated.

Sampson cited the National Football League in America's success in introducing a similar plan.

"We have seen this in the NFL to some success. They have 88 per cent of players vaccinated at the moment in the NFL," She continued.

“But in the NRL these are not mandatory obviously, but is this best practice for rugby league and the players?"

Despite agreeing with Sampson's statement, Cronk believed that players should have the right to decide whether they take the vaccine or not, however, the superstar come pundit warned that consequences will follow if they opt against the jab.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 05: Cooper Cronk of the Roosters offloads the ball during the round 25 NRL match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium on September 05, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

"I think it is each to their own," Cronk said.

"There is no doubt that community is moving in a certain direction. Governments will need to do it and the game will need to move that way."

The former Storm and Roosters playmaker suggested that if a selection of players decided to opt out of immunization, their route ahead would remain ambiguous.

"I’m with players making their own decisions, but there are consequences on top of that,"
Cronk said.

"If it leads to a place where you need some type of vaccination passport and some players don’t then they will have to stay in some type of level four protocols while the virus is still floating around.

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"The other side to think about is if teams and players can’t travel without being vaccinated then some players might only be able to play three quarters or 20 games a year.

"Then all of a sudden your contract is not worth the same playing maximum number of games so that is another interesting angle."

Further to these points, Kent raised the fact that due to the necessity of travel could scupper the plans of those that wish to remain un-jabbed.

"If you are an out of Sydney team you are travelling every second week," Kent said.

"If there are 25 games then at least 12 will be away from home so you will have to get on a plane so that is going to be a big thing."

Kent also raised the NFL model as one that should be considered by the league's brass.

Philadelphia Eagles v Arizona Cardinals
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 20: Offensive tackle Jordan Mailata #68 of the Philadelphia Eagles takes the field with teammates during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Eagles 33-26. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

"In the NFL they have brought in these passport type scenarios whereby you don’t have to get vaccinated, so it is still a players right to choose, but if you do not get vaccinated and you come down with Covid-19 and you have been out to a bar or a restaurant then you are subject to heavy fines," Kent said.

"That’s essentially the way it works and I would imagine the NRL will copy that sort of strategy."

In addition to this, Brent Read noted the nightmare that could occur with having vaccinated and non-vaccinated players in the same team.

"It is really interesting because the NFL are in training camp at the moment and basically the unvaccinated players cannot even eat with the vaccinated players," Read said.

"They have got to be separated from them. They have got to wear a mask constantly.

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"But where it gets really interesting is if an unvaccinated player causes a game to be cancelled their team forfeits that game and both sides forego their pay. So you don’t get paid that week in the NFL.

"So the NRL is not going to go down that path, but I don’t think you can help but have two sets of rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated players because how can you have an unvaccinated player mingling day to day with vaccinated players?"

Ever-sharp, Kent was emphatic in his retort.

“You won’t be able to,” Kent replied.

Furthermore, Sampson was also quick to point our Canberra Raiders' Josh Papali'i as an example. The front rower has opted out of getting vaccinated on medical grounds.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 02: Joshua Papalii of the Raiders pushes away from Isaiah Papali’i of the Warriors as breaks away to score a try during the round 20 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Canberra Raiders at Mt Smart Stadium on August 02, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

"You don’t want this to be a divisive thing in our game and you don’t want players to feel under pressure or on the outer," Sampson said.

"Josh Papalii’i is one of the examples he had a medical exemption from the flu shot. He had a really bad medical reaction to it last year.

"But he told The Canberra Times that he is definitely not getting the vaccine so that is one player that we know will not be getting it because he said it is just not for him. He is not against anyone else getting it but he said for me personally I will not be getting the vaccine."

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However, if players decide not to take the vaccine it has the ability to affect them financially.

There may be instances that Josh Papali'i won't be able to travel with the team due to the fact that he's not vaccinated and may potentially miss games.

It's a similar case with Will Hopoate, who chose not to play on Sunday due to his religious beliefs and the club had to take that into consideration with his contract. Players who don't receive the vaccine may receive similar financial consequences.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - MAY 18: William Hopoate and the Bulldogs celebrate winning the round 10 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Cbus Super Stadium on May 18, 2019 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Paul Kent later went on to say,

"But to Cooper’s point OK Josh that is your right you don’t need to get it, but that may mean he doesn’t get on a plane with the Raiders, which will be every second week or play for Queensland.

"That is going to be a sacrifice he makes and at that point his pay is going to be affected. It would be a little bit like when Will Hopoate said he didn’t want to play Sunday because of his religious beliefs and so Canterbury had to go away and factor that into his contract.

"They had to look at the draw and say OK if you are not going to play these games we can’t be expected to pay you for them.

"He has got every right to say I don’t want to take the vaccine, but the NRL in order to try and safeguard its game has got every right to say if you do not get the vaccine then you are subject to full-time level four protocols which is what they are at now."

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Adding further dialogue to the back and forth discussion, Sampson once again chimed in.

“Which he said he is happy to do,” Sampson said.

“Well if he is happy to do it then we don’t have a problem,” Kent replied.

“But he won’t be the only one that doesn’t want to get the vaccination,” Read interjected.

“Not all those players will be happy being part of level four protocols. That is when you are going to get some hurdles.

“You are going to have problems when you have players who don’t want to be vaccinated, but want to be treated like a vaccinated player. That’s when you are going to have an issue.”

In a microcosmic representation of the nation itself, the NRL and ARLC are yet to complete their vaccine rollout plan.