Josh Papalii refused to sign.
Josh Papalii refused to sign.

Stars ‘wiped out’ in religious vaccine storm

Raiders stars Josh Papalii, Iosia Soliola and Joseph Tapine have reportedly pushed the NRL into a religious freedom storm after protesting the game's strict biosecurity measures.

The star trio were reportedly no-shows at training in Canberra on Wednesday after earlier this week refusing to sign the waiver surrounding their refusal to comply with the NRL's compulsory vaccination policy.

The NRL was on Wednesday night still locked in discussions surrounding the availability of anti-vaccination players who have refused to receive a flu shot as the game prepares for a May 28 return.

As players return to training this week, the NRL has said it could be compulsory for footy stars to receive the vaccination as part of its strict biosecurity measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

But despite the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the use of vaccinations, Gold Coast Titans star Bryce Cartwright has reportedly been joined by a contingent of players across the game in refusing to follow the league's directive.

The league's biosecurity measures allow for anti-vaxxer players to be eligible for selection with the signing off of a waiver - but the game was reportedly considering closing the waiver loophole for anti-vax players after Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier called for a "no jab, no play" stance.


Josh Papalii of the Raiders looks on during the 2019 NRL Grand Final.
Josh Papalii of the Raiders looks on during the 2019 NRL Grand Final.

ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys is set to enter talks with the Rugby League Players' Association to encourage players to agree to flu shots ahead of their May 28 restart.

It emerged on Wednesday night the three Raiders players refused to sign the league's legal waiver after earlier crossing out a line and signing off on an altered waiver declaration.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the three Raiders stars could now be wiped out for the entire season if they refuse to receive the flu shot.

The report claims the three players all crossed out a line in the standardised waiver which stated they accept they are at greater risk of contracting the flu if they refuse the vaccine.

The NRL is reportedly acting on medical advice that players would be more susceptible to catching COVID 19 if their system is also compromised by the common flu.

Fox League NRL 360 co-host Paul Kent then revealed on Wednesday night the Raiders stars are reportedly objecting to the vaccination program on religious grounds.

Kent said the NRL is considering granting players special exemption from its biosecurity measures on a case-by-case basis for players like Papalii, Soliola and Tapine.

He said the NRL is likely to be more open to granting players exemptions for religious views than they will be for players objecting on ethical grounds.

The NRL commission is reportedly meeting on Thursday morning to finalise its stance on anti-vax players.


Josh Papalii of the Raiders runs the ball during the round 1 NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the Gold Coast Titans.
Josh Papalii of the Raiders runs the ball during the round 1 NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the Gold Coast Titans.

"There's some players apparently at the Raiders today who trained separately from the rest of the group because they of Polynesian heritage and their religion says they can't get the flu shot, they're not allowed to do that," Kent said on Fox League Live.

"The NRL is likely to allow those players to continue playing because of their religious convictions but if it's just a moral viewpoint like Bryce Cartwright you'll simply be told you're not playing.

"The fact is the NRL is doing everything to lower the percentage of risk so that means take the flu shot because that will help.

"Religious viewpoints are different to ethical viewpoints and that's why the ethical deniers will simply be told 'you don't have to take the needle, you're not forced to take the needle, but you will not play NRL this season'."

Papalii is reported to be a committed Christian and earlier in his career thought about pursuing a career as a priest.

RLPA player director Dale Copley earlier revealed "several" players have also rejected the vaccination protocols after throwing his support behind Cartwright and taking a swipe at Morrison.

Cartwright has signed a waiver in order to train with the Titans but must explain his actions to NRL chief medical officer Paul Bloomfield.

The former Panthers star posted a message on Twitter Wednesday night insisting he is not an anti-vaxxer and is simply sticking up for NRL players and their rights to choose if they want to follow the biosecurity measures or not.


"I've never claimed to be a doctor or a medical professional and I have never told anyone what they should or shouldn't do in regards to vaccinations.

"I stand for the freedom to choose what goes into our bodies. I am pro-choice, pro-informed consent and pro-medical freedom.

"I have nothing against people who choose to vaccinate so to label me an 'anti-vaxxer' is spreading misinformation. The flu shot is not mandatory in the NRL at the moment.

"Players have been offered a waiver to sign if we don't want it. Giving us the ultimatum of get the shot or be stood down is coercion."

An NRL spokesperson said players who refused to receive the shot would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis amid consultation with club and NRL medical staff.

While reports claimed Cartwright faced a ban, the NRL spokesperson refused to speculate on possible penalties.

- with AAP

Originally published as Stars 'wiped out' in religious vaccine storm

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