Update: Leeds Rhinos Netball positive COVID-19 result

Following the weekend’s news that Leeds Rhinos Netball returned a positive COVID-19 result, the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) Rescheduling Competition Committee have agreed, as part of the league’s ‘Postponements, Reschedules and Cancellations’ process in place this season, that the team’s two remaining fixtures of the competition will be declared as cancelled and that Leeds Rhinos will be awarded the points for both games.

The team was scheduled to play against London Pulse on Sunday 20 June and Celtic Dragons on Monday 21 June in Round 20 of the competition, in what would have been their last remaining fixtures of the season ahead of the Semi-Finals and Grand Final the following weekend.

The decision was made because of a predetermined rule in place which states that where matches are cancelled because of a positive COVID-19 case, the result of the previous fixture in the season will be applied. Leeds Rhinos Netball have already played Celtic Dragons and London Pulse in earlier rounds of the league and won both fixtures. As a result, the decision has been made to award Leeds Rhinos the points in both cancelled games.

Government guidance states that when individuals are confirmed as ‘close contacts’ of a positive COVID-19 case they must isolate for 10 days. As Vitality Netball Superleague squads train and play indoors, all players and staff are considered to be close contacts of the individual who tested positive.

The last time Leeds Rhinos assembled as a full squad, including the individual who has since tested positive for COVID-19, was for a training session on Wednesday 9 June, from which the 10 days of isolation starts.

Once out of the 10-day isolation period (in this case 19 June), the squad have a ‘Return to Play’ period of five days which has been put in place this season to protect athlete welfare and ensure that players are fit to take to court after a period of isolation. As a result, both remaining fixtures cannot be fulfilled.

Ahead of the 2021 season, the VNSL and all 11 clubs collectively agreed a series of rules relating to the impact of COVID-19 in the competition. These rules provide clarity and fairness for all clubs on matters including cancelled fixtures due to positive COVID-19 cases given the likelihood of disruption from the ongoing global pandemic.

Leeds Rhinos will finish the league with 36 points in total, putting them in fourth place in the final league table standings, and after results from Round 19 fixtures last night, sees them progress to the Semi-Final match on Saturday 26 June.

In this unprecedented and challenging season, the health and safety of players, staff, officials and fans remains the priority.  The Vitality Netball Superleague is working closely with Leeds Rhinos and all impacted clubs as part of the COVID-19 protocols in place.

Steve Elworthy, Chair of the Vitality Netball Superleague Board, said: “Whilst the Vitality Netball Superleague season has been an exciting one to date, operating the league during a global pandemic has not been without its challenges and the impact of COVID-19 has been felt both in netball and more widely across the elite sport landscape.

“Every club and every athlete want to play every match, but the health and safety of everyone involved in the Vitality Netball Superleague is our priority, and player welfare is at the heart of everything we do.

“As a result, we have rules in place for moments like this, and although we have had no cancellations to date in the league, it is of course disappointing to get to this stage of the season and have to use them.

“I want to thank everyone involved behind the scenes at the Vitality Netball Superleague, the 11 clubs, players and our partners Sky for their commitment and efforts to deliver the season and of course the fans for their continued support.”

Dan Busfield, Franchise Director of Leeds Rhinos Netball, said: “The past week has been a challenging situation and we would like to thank everyone at the Vitality Netball Superleague for their support and guidance during this time.

“The health and safety of our athletes and staff has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds during this process and although we would have all wished to have played our remaining fixtures the isolation period and return to play protocols do not allow for this at this stage in the season.

“We are so proud of everything Dan Ryan and his team have achieved so far in our debut season and we are delighted to see them now qualify for the play offs, albeit not in the circumstances we would have anticipated. It has certainly been a very competitive and exciting season and we know our team are proud to be still in the competition and are looking forward to getting the opportunity to play together again.”