With one Gold Coast star ready to have a flu jab in order to play when the NRL resumes, there are now seven players at different clubs whose immediate future hangs on their decision on whether to accept the vaccination.
Gold Coast centre Brian Kelly has become the latest NRL player to fall in line with the government’s “no jab, no play” policy – leaving besieged Bryce Cartwright out in the cold at the Titans.
News Corp can reveal Kelly has softened his stance on the flu-shot saga and told his management he will have an injection, clearing him to play for the NRL’s planned return on May 28.
That leaves just seven NRL players in vaccination limbo – Canberra’s Josh Papalii, Joe Tapine and Sia Soliola, Manly’s Dylan Walker and Addin Fonua-Blake, Canterbury’s Sione Katoa and Titans forward Cartwright.
The Titans decided to play hardball on Tuesday, slapping a 48-hour deadline on Kelly and Cartwright after the Queensland government made it clear NRL players had to be vaccinated to play in the Sunshine State.
Titans hierarchy have yet to receive a formal reply from Kelly. Unless he has an eleventh-hour change of heart, he will advise the Titans of his decision to vaccinate on Thursday.
Kelly had a two-hour meeting with his management on Wednesday to discuss his options before the Thursday deadline.
The 23-year-old declared he would have the injection to preserve his $300,000 contract, although there was initially some reluctance, with Kelly feeling he is being pressured by the Titans, NRL and government authorities.
But with his NRL career ostensibly on the line if he refuses to have the injection, Kelly opted for vaccination.
It is understood Kelly has had no previous bad experiences with the flu shot. The Titans centre simply felt he was not armed with enough information and wanted to know what is contained in the flu shot and its possible side effects before proceeding.
While Kelly is expected to conform, the Titans are on a collision course with Cartwright, who is unlikely to change his stance in support of his anti-vaxxer partner Shanelle, who has refused to vaccinate their two children.
Titans club captain Ryan James said he wouldn’t judge his teammates on their personal beliefs, but admitted it would be a blow if they were unavailable for the Gold Coast.
“Bryce and Brian have their own views on that and I fully respect their views,” he said.
“I can’t force them to do anything. It comes down to them and what they want to do.
“Bryce and Brian are key parts to our team. Brian is one of our best players and Carty was starting to play some really consistent footy.
“It’d be a massive loss if we were to lose them for the season.”
Kelly and Cartwright have been absent from training this week after being stood down last Friday.
James said the saga hadn’t affected team harmony at the Titans and the players had differing reasons for their reluctance to receive the flu jab.
“I think they might be a little bit different but I don’t want to delve too deep into it in case I’m wrong,” he said.
“It’s hard when it comes to things around people’s beliefs, religions and what they truly believe in.
“You can’t treat everyone the same. They have different beliefs. I’m not going to go out there and change their beliefs.”