A select group of Canberra sport fans are set for a July double treat when live matches return to the capital after the ACT government approved the NRL's return to the city.
The Canberra Times can reveal the government has granted the Canberra Raiders early access to Canberra Stadium on July, with the Green Machine set to return home a month earlier than expected.
The NRL will need to approve "clean zones" at the venue before giving the final green light, but the Raiders' application to play at home on July 3 was cleared just 24 hours after it was lodged.
NRL officials are not anticipating there will be issues with Canberra Stadium as they prepare to assess the venue's ability to meet the league's strict biosecurity protocols. Among them are ensuring the stadium has the capacity to assign dedicated "clean zones" and "venue zones" in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
From an operational perspective, officials would need to ensure they could distinguish areas between the zones players and staff access such as dressing room areas, and other areas around the stadium accessed by other people. ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has opened the door for small crowds to return but how many fans are allowed in will hinge on meetings with stadium staff.
"Stadiums in the ACT, including [Canberra] Stadium, are not referred to in the Public Health Directions and are able to be open," an ACT government spokesperson said.
"The Direction also excludes professional sport. Therefore the Raiders can play at [Canberra] Stadium, and do not require an exemption to play. However, gathering rules still apply and the Chief Health Officer is currently working to consider the safest way for spectators to return."
Raiders staff are set to meet stadium officials at the end of the week to discuss the configuration and measures required to have fans in the stands for their July 3 comeback.
The ACT Brumbies are also watching those developments closely given they are locked in to play the first game of a Super Rugby AU competition in the capital on July 4.
News the Raiders are free to play at home will work as an additional boost for the Brumbies, who feel the clubs can work together on crowd proposals to put forward to Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman.
Stadiums with a capacity of fewer than 40,000 will be allowed to fill up 25 per cent of their seats, which means a maximum of 6250 could attend matches at Canberra Stadium.
That number will likely be revised to 3000 or 4000 to adhere to social distancing measures and potentially implement restrictions on access to the western side of the stadium to create a "clean zone" for players and officials. The Brumbies will host four home games and potentially a finals match, with initial plans to have loyal members in the stands pending the size of the allowed crowd.
Coleman could decide to limit the number to a few hundred for the first weekend of matches given the government is allowing gatherings of a maximum of 100 people until July 10 at the earliest.
The Raiders are desperate to return to the capital having been forced to play home matches at Campbelltown Stadium for the opening phase of the rebooted competition.
It is there they will meet the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles on Sunday, with the club's small ticket allocation for a home game likely to be used internally.
The Raiders' focus has been geared towards a return to Canberra Stadium, and with little more than 100 tickets available for the Campbelltown clash, they are likely to be given to sponsors and players' families.