Virus prompts NRL to shut out fans

The NRL will be played in empty stadiums in round two with clubs advised to comply with government advice to ban large gatherings from Monday.

The governing body has cleared Canberra and North Queensland to host their round one Friday night games despite growing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

Crowds are allowed to attend those fixtures with the league to reassess the situation on Saturday morning for five remaining games over the weekend.

The call follows the federal government's announcement advising against gatherings of 500 people or more at non-essential organised events from Monday, which will directly affect the NRL from round two.

Concerns over COVID-19 have intensified over the past few days with fears the NRL may be required to postpone its season.

The league has set up a coronavirus sub-committee to explore all options and ramifications for clubs if games are to be played to empty stadiums or the season is postponed.

The Cowboys will launch their season against Brisbane at their new stadium in Townsville, with more than 20,000 fans expected.

The Raiders will then host Gold Coast at GIO Stadium at 6pm, although initial expectations of around 15,000 spectators have taken a hit.

Parramatta and Canterbury played the opening game of the season at Bankwest Stadium on Thursday night in front of 21,363 fans.

Before kick-off, the NRL issued a health and safety advisory for players and staff.

Players were asked to minimise handshakes and physical interactions with fans, while clubs were encouraged to minimise player contact with community organisations.

Restrictions were also placed on dressing room entry.