After months of uncertainty, nobody was sure what the NRL would look like when it came back.
- The return of the NRL delivered several historic performances
- Some feared injuries and slow play in the return of the NRL, but these fears were unfounded
- Brisbane forward Payne Haas is setting a new benchmark for big-man endurance
Player welfare was a concern after players in German football suffered a large number of soft tissue injuries when that league returned two weeks ago.
But over the weekend, after weeks of boardroom battles and broadcast biffs, football fans could finally focus on what was on the field.
And rather than break down with injury, these players stepped up.
Haas clocks 80 mins
Payne Haas, the man looming as the major contender for Jason Taumalolo’s crown as the NRL’s best forward was relentless in the blazing opener between the Parramatta Eels and his Brisbane Broncos.
Although Brisbane lost, Haas played 80 minutes and contributed 196 metres, including 97 post-contact metres, according to NRL.com Stats.
The video above shows his ability to penetrate the defensive line and offload … and even stick a miraculous catch when the tank had just about run dry.
For a man so big, his workload is rare.
Big men — for these purposes, those heavier than 112kg — have booked fewer than 300 80-minute games in the past five seasons.
Those at Haas’s weight of 119kg or more have recorded fewer than 40.
Haas has now done it three matches in a row in 2020.
His Broncos face the Roosters on Thursday evening this week.
Warriors almost perfect
Everyone’s second-favourite team delivered an almost perfect outing against the Dragons.
Despite facing challenges to preparation associated with relocating to Australia, the Warriors won 18-0.
But if the victory alone sounds impressive, the way the Kiwis pulled it off was actually close to perfect.
They recorded 44 consecutive successful sets of possession to open the match.
But the run — reported as an NRL record in the days since — ended in the 75th minute with a mistake from rookie second-rower Jack Murchie.
The Milton-Ulladulla Bulldogs junior lost the ball in a wrestle with three Dragons.
The call was contentious enough to be challenged, though ultimately upheld.
But just what was Tyson Frizell doing with his left arm?
His team might have suffered a defeat, but Dragons hooker Cameron McInnes recorded a historic performance.
Seventy-five tackles in one game — close to one every minute — is the third highest tally in the NRL era.
Only Michael Luck with 78 for Storm against the Warriors and then-Panther Elijah Taylor with 77 versus the Cowboys in 2015 have more, according to NRL.com.
McInnes’ performance is all the more impressive given this was his return after a serious knee injury in February.
His next highest total is 72 in 2017, the year he landed at Kogarah and earned a City call-up.
Sports scientist Joel Mason recently researched injuries suffered by footballers in May’s return of the German Bundesliga football competition.
He found injuries were about three times more common in the first week back compared to normal, especially soft-tissue injuries such as muscle strains.
But NRL players have mostly avoided that fate.
Injury analyst Brien Seeney counted just 6 injuries across the 8 matches.
Unfortunately for Newcastle, two of those were playmaker Mitchell Pearce and hooker Connor Watson in the first 10 minutes of the Panthers clash.
Bad luck Burton
The depleted Knights held on for a draw against Penrith, but not after Panthers’ five-eighth Matt Burton missed five chances to win the game.
In the past five years, just one other player has missed five field goal attempts in a match: Gold Coast’s Ashley Taylor in 2016.
Benji Marshall missed four in 2015.
Coach Ivan Cleary described Burton, playing in his second first grade match, as “brave” after the game.
“I’ve seen plenty of kids — either with field goals or goal kicks — when they’re not going so well for you, and then hand it over to someone else.
“The more he took, the closer he was going to get.”