NRL clubs are bracing to be "without three to six players most weekends" for the 2022 season as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a strong grip on the competition.
A majority of clubs are understood to currently have players in isolation as the nation battles with record case numbers, with clubs having to cancel training returns this week as players and staff have been deemed as close contacts or have contracted the virus.
The league has already looked to implement strict guidelines for all 480 players, but the current degree of case numbers is keeping clubs at risk of being without several key players week-on-week once the 2022 season is underway.
"We have been talking among a few of the coaches and medical staffs and we reckon we will have to be without three to six players most weekends if the current trend continues," an unnamed coach told Wide World of Sports.
"That will be a combination of players who actually have COVID and those who are deemed close contacts.
"It's going to really put a strain on all clubs but this is the new world we are living in."
The Panthers, Knights and Broncos are just a handful of the clubs currently having to reshape their pre-season programs after recording positive cases within their playing groups.
The Courier Mail's Travis Meyn reports that potentially over 100 NRL players are currently isolating with the virus, leaving clubs scrambling to implement new avenues to best prepare for the new season.
— Travis Meyn (@travismeyn) January 5, 2022
Over 100 NRL players COVID positive as teams look to head back in the New Year. All players in isolation & after further tests hoping to return in 7 days. Will be a significant challenge to hone performance & control injury risk with significant disruptions to training schedules
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) January 6, 2022
The number of clubs and players that are directly impacted is expected to increase as Round 1 nears, with the NRL looking to balance personal and professional lives for their playing cohort.
The league is set to implement a strategy on its playing group that won't allow players to attend indoor venues and would be required to dine outdoors should they visit cafes and restaurants.