NRL: Storm boss Frank Ponissi backs NRL conference return


Brandon Smith of the Storm could be playing in a conference consisting of four teams.

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Brandon Smith of the Storm could be playing in a conference consisting of four teams.

Melbourne Storm football boss Frank Ponissi has revealed a proposal to organise teams in conferences at four different locations as the NRL scrambles to find ways to get back on the field.

But Ponissi admits he is not getting his hopes up over the idea.

South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett reportedly pitched an initial idea to organise teams in two conferences to Project Apollo, the NRL’s innovation committee charged with finding a way to re-start the competition in the next two months amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Ponissi said the latest development was to divide the 16 teams into four conferences based at Brisbane/Sunshine Coast, north Queensland, NSW’s Central Coast and Canberra although he stressed he had not received official word from the NRL.

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“It is four pools of four (teams). (That way) you minimise the amount of people in one particular area which makes it, especially from a health and safety point of view, far more manageable,” he told SEN radio.

And Ponissi believed players would be up for it, even if it meant being away from their families.

Storm football manager Frank Ponissi, witting withStorm coach Craig Bellamy, says players are willing to be apart from their families to get the NRL going again.

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Storm football manager Frank Ponissi, witting withStorm coach Craig Bellamy, says players are willing to be apart from their families to get the NRL going again.

He said their mood had changed dramatically since resisting an initial pitch to house all 16 teams at Gladstone after seeing club employees being stood down and the players’ salaries were cut dramatically on Thursday.

“A couple of weeks ago there was a real resistance (to move away), that was one of the reasons why a lot of people especially players and staff with young families were saying ‘no we won’t look at that’,” Ponissi said.

“Now it’s changed again. People are out of work and salaries have either been cut or stopped completely.

“You’ve got to feed your family … so they will look at anything. The mood has changed dramatically.”

Admittedly Ponissi wasn’t holding his breath for the four conference model to be given the green light following government restrictions and border closures due to the pandemic.

“It will still be a tough ask. I am trying to calm people’s expectations at our club,” he said.

“It’s a realistic option but let’s not get our hopes up.

“It might be out of our hands. We might be looking at a situation where the government says ‘it’s just not possible’.”

Still, Ponissi believed any speculation about the game returning sooner rather than later would benefit the players in self isolation.

“It’s a little bit of hope but it is something to cling on. It will help with their individual training for the next few weeks,” he said.