The NRL season has made its much-anticipated return following its coronavirus-enforced suspension, with Parramatta posting a 34-6 victory over the Broncos at Lang Park in Brisbane.
- The NRL played its first match since March 22 following the coronavirus shutdown
- The Eels scored six tries to one against the Broncos to remain unbeaten
- The NRL is confident it will have spectators attending matches later in the season
It has been more than two months since the NRL was put on hold after just two rounds because of the coronavirus pandemic, but rugby league became the first team sport in Australia to resume its elite competition on Thursday evening.
Even though spectators were not allowed to attend Lang Park, a massive TV audience — treated to virtual crowd noise provided by the broadcasters — tuned in to see a high-quality contest, with the Eels scoring six tries to one.
The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) announced in early April it intended to resume its season on May 28 and despite facing several hurdles, chairman Peter V’landys never lost faith it would meet its target.
The NRL’s return was welcomed on social media, with V’landys receiving some genuine and light-hearted plaudits from retired premiership winners and State of Origin representatives, Martin Lang and Brent Tate.
Retired Australian and Queensland representative Billy Moore praised V’landys’s “dogged pursuit” to get the NRL back on the field.
“He stood firm … momentum built and built until to this point now,” Moore told ABC Grandstand.
“So I think everyone who loves rugby league and competitive sport … Peter V’landys is the name on everyone’s lips. He’s the one who has got rugby league to this stage.”
NRL survives scare before kick-off
There was a hiccup prior to the opening whistle, however, when Broncos half-back Brodie Croft recorded a high temperature upon arriving at Lang Park.
Under the NRL’s biosecurity protocols, any person entering a matchday venue must have their temperature taken.
Croft twice recorded a temperature above the accepted 37.2 degrees Celsius but was given the all-clear when he passed a third test.
After the Eels’ Marata Niukore had the honour of scoring the first try following the NRL’s season resumption, Croft posted the home side’s only four-pointer of the match during the opening half.
The first term was played at a lightning pace, perhaps aided by the influence of a single referee being used rather than two.
The Eels led 12-6 at half-time, with an acrobatic try in the corner from winger Maika Sivo the highlight, before the visitors crossed the stripe on four occasions in the second half.
Captain Clint Gutherson, Michael Jennings, Shaun Lane and Waqa Blake all scored for the Eels, while Mitchell Moses landed five conversions for the match.
Lane said he was impressed with how the Eels performed as a team, considering they had not played together since March.
“It was a pretty big break in rugby league standards,” he said.
“It felt really good, actually. It felt like we just flowed into the game, just like how we left off (before the season shutdown).
The Eels head into the remainder of the season unbeaten, with their win over the Broncos adding to their two victories prior to the shutdown of the season.
NRL season return a ‘very big challenge’
Before kick-off, NRL head of football Graham Annesley admitted the season resumption had seemed to be a “forlorn hope” at one stage and deemed “impossible” in the eyes of many commentators.
“I thought it was certainly challenging,” he said.
“But based on the information we were getting it was achievable, but it was a very big challenge and a lot of things had to go right for us.”
Annesley said he remained confident the ARLC would not put players and officials at risk now that the season is back underway.
“Of course, there is a risk every time anyone walks out their front door,” he said.
“But we have put a whole range of protocols in place around players, around teams and around venues.”
Among the challenges still facing the ARLC is whether spectators will be permitted to attend matches at some stage during the season.
V’landys has floated the idea of crowds returning in July, although the Australian Medical Association has urged the NRL to abandon any plans of allowing spectators into venues.
Annesley said bringing back crowds was a work in progress.
“It’s very difficult to put a timeframe on it,” he said.
“Peter V’landys, I know, has set a target date and I know he likes setting targets that motivate everybody and gets them all pushing in the same direction.
The NRL competition received another boost this evening with the announcement the ARLC had signed off on a revised TV broadcast deal with the Nine Network and Foxtel.
Both broadcasters will show matches live until the end of the 2022 season, with Foxtel extending its partnership for five more years through to the end of 2027.