NRL grants Fittler COVID exemption — with a catch
NSW coach Brad Fittler has secured special exemption from NRL biosecurity experts to leave the Blues' strict State of Origin bubble to watch his beloved Panthers play Sunday's grand final at ANZ stadium.
But there is a catch.
Fittler and 20 NSW players from his extended squad entered a NSW bubble at the five-star Pullman Magenta Shores resort at The Entrance on Monday as preparations ramp up for State of Origin I in Adelaide on November 4.
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The Blues' coach held top level discussions with the NRL in recent weeks to determine how he could temporarily leave the NSW bubble on grand final Sunday and then return to the Central Coast later that evening.
Fittler will only be permitted to attend the grand final if he avoids all areas at the stadium known as "dirty zones."
All players and team officials inside their own bubble move around in what are deemed "clean zones" - highly sanitised areas approved by biosecurity experts. All other areas are declared "dirty zones".
By travelling from a clean zone at Magenta Shores to a clean zone at ANZ Stadium, Fittler will essentially remain in an extended bubble from the Central Coast to ANZ Stadium.
It would also mean neither Fittler nor those he meets would compromise each other. He will drive to ANZ Stadium on his own.
Fittler and the NSW players all underwent COVID tests late last week with all having to return a negative result before being permitted inside the NSW bubble.
A former Panthers premiership winner, Fittler was desperate to watch Penrith contest the grand final where he will also work for free-to-air host broadcaster Channel 9.
Fittler will not be allowed to mix with his nine co-commentators because they will not have been in a bubble. He may be asked to sit in a small quarantined area on the sideline, where training staff from both sides are positioned in a clean zone.
"We have meetings every Friday morning with various NRL officials including the biosecurity experts," said NSWRL chief executive, David Trodden.
"Freddy has discussed his personal circumstances extensively with those NRL biosecurity experts and they have reached a solution that everybody is comfortable with, to allow him to be in the bubble and also attend the grand final.
"It will allow him to go from the clean zone in the NSW bubble to a clean zone at the grand final event."
It comes as Blues adviser and Penrith deputy chairman Greg Alexander has decided to remain close to the Panthers this week before joining the NSW bubble.
Alexander will have COVID test on Thursday and then, given his test is negative, enter NSW camp on Monday. He has called every grand final on Fox Sports since 2008 but has an agreement with the pay-television broadcaster not to commentate Penrith games.
"I don't call Penrith - I haven't since 2016," Alexander said. "And I wanted to be at the game."
Seven places in the final NSW squad will be filled by players from the grand final.