THE gates will close at Taree Rugby Park on Saturday if there are 500 people in the ground for the Lower North Coast Rugby Union semi-finals.
Jim Boyce, president of the host club the Manning Ratz, gave this assurance, saying the Ratz will be complying with COVID-19 restrictions that includes a 500 crowd limit.
Four matches - men's and women's major and minor semi-finals - will be played, starting at 10.45. The men's major semi between Manning Ratz and Wauchope will be underway from 3pm.
Mr Boyce confirmed players and officials are counted in the 500. He said this takes a sizable chunk out of the number.
He said there will be extra security at the ground to help assess the crowd numbers.
"But this is going to be a challenge,'' he agreed.
"And it's all a bit of an unknown. For example Gloucester only has the one team involved - in the women's 10s minor semi - and once they're finished they might go home.
"The same applies with the Barbarian Hogs in the men's minor semi.''
However, Mr Boyce said there's no guarantee this will happen. He said the Ratz have organised for clubs to have separate 'pods' at the ground where it is hoped they'll gather to help with social distancing.
Mr Boyce concedes there will be 'some angry people' if the club has to turn away spectators.
"We have people who turn up every year to watch us - in the good seasons and the bad. We don't want to tell them they can't get in, but if the limit has been reached, then that's what will happen,'' he said.
"They'll have to wait until someone leaves the ground before they can be admitted.''
Winner of the men's major hosts the grand final on October 3. Mr Boyce said his club would have to consider playing the game at the Jack Neal Oval if the Ratz are successful on Saturday, saying it would be easier to control crowd numbers. The Neal Oval has been the venue for rugby grand finals in the past, 2011 being the most recent.
The zone charges a gate for all matches in the semi-final series.
The men's and women's grand finals will be played on October 3. Mr Boyce can see merit in playing the women's game on a Friday night at the home ground of the winner of the women's major semi-final, to help manage crowd numbers. However, MNC Zone chief executive Bob Wilson has previously told the Times this won't be happening.