As part of the NRL 2020 Annual recounting the major news stories in rugby league, David Middleton looks back at October.
October 1: Veteran coach Wayne Bennett accepts an offer from the Queensland Rugby League to step into the breach as Maroons coach for the 2020 State of Origin series following Kevin Walters’ appointment as Broncos coach. Bennett last coached the Maroons in 2003.
The NRL confirms it has opened an investigation into the 2003 Dally M Medal that was not awarded due to industrial action by the game’s players’ association. The Daily Telegraph had led calls for Penrith’s Craig Gower to be awarded the medal after revealing he would have almost certainly won the count.
The Sydney Roosters lose star recruit Sonny Bill Williams for their qualifying final against Penrith with a neck complaint.
Tom Trbojevic rules himself out of the New South Wales State of Origin squad as he struggles to recover from a shoulder injury.
Match Highlights: Panthers v Roosters
October 2: Penrith open their finals campaign with a dramatic 29-28 defeat of the Sydney Roosters at Panthers Stadium. The Panthers withstand a fierce Roosters fightback after leading 28-12 early in the second half.
October 3: The Sharks are the first team eliminated from the 2020 finals series when they fall 32-20 to the Raiders at Canberra Stadium.
Melbourne blitz Parramatta 36-24 at Suncorp Stadium to advance to a preliminary final for the sixth consecutive season.
The Roosters and Broncos open their NRLW campaigns with victories over the Dragons and Warriors, respectively, in a double-header in Canberra.
Match Highlights: Rabbitohs v Knights
October 4: South Sydney send Newcastle crashing from their first finals series since 2013 after a 46-20 demolition in the second elimination final.
New South Wales coach Brad Fittler overlooks Blues stalwarts David Klemmer and Mitchell Pearce when making his initial selection choices for the 2020 series. Fittler names six players with more to be added when their club commitments came to an end. The first players named in his 27-man squad are Payne Haas (Broncos), Jake Trbojevic (Sea Eagles), Tyson Frizell (Dragons), Zac Lomax (Dragons), Cameron McInnes (Dragons) and Daniel Saifiti (Knights).
October 6: Former Sydney Roosters director and ex-Channel Nine CEO David Gyngell rates Trent Robinson the greatest coach in the club’s history. "Robbo is the finest coach the Roosters have ever had and he’s not finished yet," Gyngell told the Daily Telegraph.
Penrith second-rower Viliame Kikau is ruled out of the Panthers’ grand final qualifier after failing to beat a dangerous throw charge on Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
The Melbourne Storm are fined $10,000 for time-wasting after a trainer held up the qualifying final against Parramatta to treat winger Suliasi Vunivalu for cramp.
October 7: Bulldogs chair Lynne Anderson and directors Paul Dunn and John Ballesty stand aside before a rebel group could vote them out at an extraordinary meeting.
Penrith re-sign boom youngster Charlie Staines to a three-year contract extension.
Maroons coach Wayne Bennett names nine newcomers in a 15-man train-on squad for the State of Origin series.
October 8: Incoming St George Illawarra coach Anthony Griffin appoints Dragons 2010 premiership-winner Jamie Soward as a specialist halves and kicking consultant for 2021.
October 9: The Sydney Roosters’ hopes of a premiership hat-trick are brought to an end at the Sydney Cricket Ground where the Raiders hand them a 22-18 semi-final defeat.
Newcastle fullback Kalyn Ponga rules himself out of the State of Origin series as he prepares for shoulder reconstruction surgery.
Match Highlights: Eels v Rabbitohs
October 10: Veteran Parramatta centre Michael Jennings receives an immediate provisional suspension and is unable to play in his team’s semi-final clash with South Sydney after returning a positive test for two performance-enhancing substances. Jennings is provisionally suspended after returning a positive A-sample for Ligandrol and Ibutamoren and has the opportunity to have his B-sample analysed.
Coach Brad Arthur opts for rookie Haze Dunster to make his NRL debut in the sudden-death match against the Rabbitohs. Souths claim a 38-24 victory to progress to the preliminary final for the third successive season.
October 12: The Sydney Morning Herald reports that COVID-19 restrictions will prevent Canberra CEO Don Furner from travelling to Brisbane to watch the Raiders play Melbourne in the preliminary final at Suncorp Stadium. While the Queensland border was open to residents of the ACT, anyone who travelled from Canberra to Sydney to watch the Raiders-Roosters semi-final, including Furner, would be required to isolate for 14 days before entering Queensland.
October 13: Canterbury sign Penrith forward Jack Hetherington to a two-year contract (with an option for a third).
Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson tells halfback Kyle Flanagan he will not be retained by the club beyond the 2021 season.
October 14: Penrith hooker Apisai Koroisau opens up to The Sydney Morning Herald about the guilt he felt standing in for suspended hooker Issac Luke when South Sydney won the 2014 grand final. "That was Issac Luke’s team, not mine," Koroisau said. "What he had done for that club, having been there for so long, it didn’t feel right."
South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett rubbishes claims that he privately agreed to coach Penrith in 2019, telling the Daily Telegraph: "That is absolute garbage. I have never looked at going to Penrith."
Olympic gold medallist Charlotte Caslick is ruled out of the Roosters’ final NRLW matches after suffering two small fractures in her lumbar spine in her team’s 22-12 defeat of the Warriors.
October 15: Queensland government officials knock back Canberra’s travel plans ahead of their preliminary final against Melbourne, denying the team the opportunity to meet for lunch, have massages and rest at a city hotel before heading to Suncorp Stadium.
The Raiders are now required to fly into Brisbane in the afternoon and drive straight to the venue. Coach Ricky Stuart describes the rebuff as "just another punch in the head".
Queensland coach Wayne Bennett accepts an offer from Test coach Mal Meninga to assist the Queensland team with their State of Origin preparation.
Match Highlights: Storm v Raiders
October 16: The Melbourne Storm surge to the grand final after disposing of the Raiders 30-10 at Suncorp Stadium. Storm players chair captain Cameron Smith from the field at fulltime, suggesting to many that the gesture is a sure signal of Smith’s imminent retirement.
Construction begins on a $33.1 million centre of excellence and northern grandstand at Brookvale Oval. The project is expected to be completed in time for the start of the 2022 season.
October 17: The Panthers qualify for their first grand final since 2003 after holding off South Sydney 20-16 at ANZ Stadium.
The Queensland Government grants the Melbourne Storm a crucial exemption for the grand final, allowing them to fly into Sydney 24 hours before the game. The Storm will become the first team since the COVID shutdown not required to travel on the day of the game.
October 19: Five-eighth Jack Wighton upsets hot favourite Nathan Cleary to become the first Canberra player in 25 years to claim the Dally M Medal. Wighton beats Parramatta fullback Clint Gutherson and Cleary to claim the top award. Penrith’s Ivan Cleary wins the Dally M Coach of the Year title; Wests Tigers hooker Harry Grant is named Dally M Rookie of the Year while Broncos captain Ali Brigginshaw is named Dally M Female Player of the Year. The awards ceremony is held at Fox Sports studios in Sydney under strict COVID provisions.
October 20: Gerard Sutton is appointed to control the grand final, the first since 2008 to feature a single whistle-blower.
South Sydney forward Ethan Lowe is forced to announce his retirement at the age of 29 after suffering a neck injury earlier in the season.
Match Highlights: Panthers v Storm
October 25: The Melbourne Storm take their chances to charge to a 26-0 lead in the grand final before resisting a late Panthers fightback to win 26-20. Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen wins the Clive Churchill Medal. Cameron Smith scores 14 points as he becomes the oldest grand final winner in history but declines to make a call on his future. The decider is watched by a COVID-restricted crowd of 37,303.
The Broncos claim a third successive NRLW grand final after downing the Sydney Roosters 20-10.
Match Highlights: Broncos v Roosters
October 26: Halfback Kyle Flanagan signs a three-year deal to join Canterbury after he receives an official release from the final year of his contract with the Sydney Roosters.
Television ratings figures for the NRL grand final surpass 2019 figures, despite the game being played later than ever before. A national audience of 2.97 million viewers represents a 12.5 per cent increase on the 2019 figure of 2.64 million.
October 28: The Sydney Morning Herald reports that State of Origin players have agreed to forego $1.5 million in match payments as part of a revised collective bargaining agreement in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Individual players have their fees slashed from $30,000 per game to $10,000.
Former Newtown grand final winger Ray Blacklock dies from a rare neurological disorder, aged 65.
Canterbury sign legendary All Blacks coach Steve Hansen as a high-performance consultant. Bulldogs chief executive Andrew Hill describes Hansen’s appointment as "a massive coup" for the club.
October 29: The NRL back-tracks on a decision to scrap the national anthem for the State of Origin series. Less than an hour after the announcement was made to abandon the anthem, Prime Minister Scott Morrison phoned ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys, urging him to reconsider the decision. The NRL then announced the ban on the anthem had been overturned.
Queensland coach Wayne Bennett names eight newcomers in his 17-man squad to face New South Wales in the opening State of Origin match in Adelaide.
Churchill Medallist Ryan Papenhuyzen is ruled out of the opening State of Origin match with a calf injury.
October 31: Queensland Premier Annastacia Paluszczuk announces that the state’s borders will remain closed to residents of Sydney, preventing thousands of fans from watching a potential Origin series decider at Suncorp Stadium on November 18. "They almost deserve for it to be a dead rubber up there, don’t they," said NSWRL CEO David Trodden.