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NRL 2020: The major news stories of August

As part of the NRL 2020 Annual recounting the major news stories in rugby league, David Middleton looks back at August.

August

August 2: Management at Sunshine Coast Stadium are questioned over the venue’s safe-distancing practices after photographs show a packed hill for the clash between Melbourne and Newcastle. Under Queensland COVID restrictions, the venue was allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity and the attendance of 5437 was inside the limit.

Five Queensland Health authorities were reportedly on site for the match and no concerns were raised on the day. The NRL announces (August 3) that it will reduce the capacity for future matches as a "precautionary measure".

The English Super League competition resumes after a five-month hiatus as St Helens overpower Catalans 34-6. James Graham makes his return to Saints after an absence of nine years.

August 3: Interim Warriors coach Todd Payten knocks back an opportunity to assume a full-time role with the club in 2021 but declares he is still interested in the vacant North Queensland coaching position.

Melbourne sign former Cronulla centre Ricky Leutele for the rest of the season following the withdrawal of his club, the Toronto Wolfpack, from the 2020 Super League competition.

Warriors interim coach Todd Payten.
Warriors interim coach Todd Payten. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire assures the club he will not pursue any other coaching roles during his tenure with Wests Tigers.

Manly lose five-eighth Dylan Walker for at least another six weeks after he suffers a fresh foot fracture in his return from a similar injury.

August 4: The Warriors grant halfback Blake Green an immediate release to allow him to join the Newcastle Knights for the remainder of the season. The Knights become Green’s seventh NRL club, making him only the third player, after Darrien Doherty and Tyran Smith, to play for as many NRL outfits.

South Sydney extend their interest in GPS talent by signing two 17-year-olds to three-year NRL contracts. Terrell Kalokalo (Scots College) and Davvy Moale (Waverley College) commit to the Rabbitohs, while two other talented 17-year-olds remain in the club’s sights.

August 5: Parramatta extend the contract of coach Brad Arthur until the end of the 2022 season.

August 6: South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett is ordered to undertake 14 days of self-isolation and is fined $20,000 after breaching the NRL’s strict biosecurity protocols by eating at a restaurant with his partner. St George Illawarra prop Paul Vaughan is also ordered to quarantine and is fined $10,000 after eating at a Wollongong cafe, while Brisbane trainer Allan Langer and two other staff members are fined $5,000 each and ordered to self-isolate after attending a birthday celebration for Langer at Brisbane’s Caxton Hotel.

Angry NRL chairman Peter V’landys says individuals breaking the rules are jeopardising the sport. "These players, coaches and officials have a great responsibility for the game and they should be doing the right thing," he said. "Because they’re risking not only the income of this generation, they’re risking the next generation as well, because it will take years to overcome a financial effect like this if we stop [the competition]."

Match Highlights: Dragons v Roosters

Sydney Roosters utility Mitch Aubusson becomes the 40th player to reach the milestone of 300 NRL appearances as his injury-hit team accounts for St George Illawarra 24-16 in Wollongong.

August 7: The NRL informs clubs that the NRL Nines tournament will not be scheduled in 2021. The All Stars fixture is tentatively slated for February 21 with the premiership to kick off on March 11.

August 8: Penrith equal the club’s 2003 record of eight consecutive wins when they account for Canberra 28-12 at Panthers Stadium. Coach Ivan Cleary lands in hot water after fulltime when discussing the performance of match officials, saying "it felt like Canberra were being managed back into the game".

Furious ARLC chairman Peter V’landys describes Cleary’s comments as "deplorable". The Panthers coach is hit with a $20,000 fine.

Munster leaves the field with knee injury

Melbourne extend their undefeated record in Queensland to 15 games with a 41-10 thumping of Canterbury at Sunshine Coast Stadium but lose five-eighth Cameron Munster for up to a month with a knee injury.

Wests Tigers utility Billy Walters suffers a season-ending ACL rupture as his team crashes to a 44-4 loss to Newcastle at McDonald Jones Stadium.

The Brisbane Broncos’ woes intensify as coach Anthony Seibold remains in Sydney after the team’s 28-10 loss to South Sydney to deal with a "serious family matter".

Seibold is required to spend 14 days in COVID-19 self-isolation after leaving the Broncos’ bio-security "bubble". Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph (August 9) reports that Darius Boyd has quit the club’s leadership group because of "a communications breakdown with coach Anthony Seibold".

August 9: Parramatta splash their way to a 14-12 defeat of Cronulla at a waterlogged Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on the worst weather day of the 2020 season. A low-pressure system was responsible for the deluge that left pools of water on the playing surface. Goalkicking won the day for the Eels after the Sharks scored three tries to two.

News breaks that Brisbane prop Tevita Pangai has breached COVID-19 protocols by attending the opening of an alleged bikie-linked barbershop. He is immediately stood down for two weeks.

For the first time since 2013, the Gold Coast become the leading Queensland team in the competition after downing North Queensland 30-10 at Cbus Super Stadium.

Match Highlights: Titans v Cowboys

August 10: Melbourne fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen urges sporting administrators to "crackdown" on disgruntled gamblers who target players with abuse and death threats on social media.

The Warriors announce the appointment of Nathan Brown as coach for the next three seasons and Phil Gould in a wide-ranging consultancy role. Gould’s remit will include a comprehensive review of the Warriors’ player development and pathways systems.

Former Australian Test cricket captain Michael Clarke turns down an approach to join the Wests Tigers board.

The NRL announce that Tamworth is to host the Round 16 fixture between the Warriors and Newcastle as a way of thanking the Tamworth community for hosting the Warriors when the team relocated to the north-west town for several weeks following the COVID-19 shutdown.

August 11: Long-serving Gold Coast prop Ryan James signs a two-year deal with the Canberra Raiders.

Brisbane coach Anthony Seibold contacts police over slanderous rumours posted on social media relating to his personal life and engages a legal firm to take his case to cyber security experts.

Dragons centre Euan Aitken.
Dragons centre Euan Aitken. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

August 12: The Daily Telegraph reports that the Warriors have signed St George Illawarra centre Euan Aitken to a three-year contract.

News Corp papers claim that the Broncos are preparing to sack prop Tevita Pangai for repeated breaches of the game’s biosecurity protocols.

The Broncos’ crisis deepens when it is revealed that up to 10 players attended a hotel in possible contravention of the game’s strict coronavirus rules. Meanwhile, Broncos prop Matt Lodge is ruled out for the rest of the season with a hairline fracture of his tibia. The NRL hand down significant sanctions (August 18), fining the club and 10 players a total of $140,000.

August 13: The Bulldogs cut ties with its entire coaching support staff ahead of Trent Barrett’s arrival for the 2021 season. Assistant coach Steve Georgallis, head of high performance Tony Ayoub, skills coach Steve James and strength and conditioning coaches Harry Harris and Tony Grimaldi are told their services will not be required beyond the current season.

Veteran trainer Garry Carden had already been made redundant, while assistant coach Steve Antonelli quit when head coach Dean Pay departed.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Warriors stars Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Tohu Harris will consider their options for 2021 if the club is forced to remain in Australia due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Match Highlights: Roosters v Storm

The paper claims that the Auckland Blues have sounded out Tuivasa-Sheck about a switch of codes.

Sonny Bill Williams prepares to link with Sydney Roosters team-mates after being released from 14 days mandatory quarantine at a Sydney apartment.

Sydney Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary is rushed to hospital with suspected internal bleeding after the Roosters slump to a 24-6 loss to Melbourne at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Keary is cleared of serious injury but x-rays reveal a broken rib which is expected to sideline him for several weeks. Team-mates Mitch Aubusson (wrist) and Lachlan Lam (ankle) also fail to finish the match.

St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor stands down as coach after five years at the helm. McGregor informs players of his decision to step aside after the team’s Round 14 clash with Parramatta.

Dragons coach Paul McGregor during his time at the helm of the Red V.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor during his time at the helm of the Red V. ©NRL Photos

He explains that he had been stripped of full control of player selections by the Dragons’ board. "As a head coach you need to select your team," he said. Premiership-winning forward Dean Young is installed as interim coach for the rest of the season.

August 14: A group of supporters are ejected from Central Coast Stadium after directing abuse towards Penrith’s indigenous winger Brent Naden. NRL CEO Andrew Abdo immediately condemns the actions of the supporters, insisting they have no place in the game. The Panthers achieve a club record ninth consecutive victory when they down the Warriors 18-12.

St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor departs on a winning note after the Dragons upset Parramatta 14-12 at Bankwest Stadium.

August 15: An investigation by the Daily Telegraph reveals that serious injuries have increased in 2020; suggesting that the game’s new "six again" rule may be a factor. Sports science experts point to other factors such as same-day interstate flights and long-distance bus trips, the transition from home training to game mode in three weeks following the COVID-19 shutdown and the poor state of some playing surfaces as contributing factors.

Abdo: Abuse will not be tolerated

Gold Coast captain Kevin Proctor is sent from the field by referee Henry Perenara, accused of biting countryman Shaun Johnson on the arm at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium. Proctor becomes the first player in the history of the premiership to be dismissed for biting. Despite supporting evidence from Johnson, Proctor is found guilty of the charge and suspended for four games (August 18).

August 16: Manly second-rower Joel Thompson plays almost an entire match against Newcastle with a severed artery in his tongue.

August 17: The Warriors, enduring the greatest hardships of any NRL club during the COVID-19 crisis, face another hammer blow when it is revealed that Vodafone, major sponsors of the club for 22 years, may be forced to walk away as NRL naming rights sponsor Telstra seek to enact an exclusivity clause in its contract. The move sparks a public outcry and within days, Telstra review their decision and allow Vodafone to extend their deal with the club.

August 18: Wests Tigers veteran Chris Lawrence announces plans to retire at the end of the season.

The NRL announce tougher penalties for "crusher tackles" in a bid to end "the real potential for catastrophic consequences". A specific crusher tackle charge is introduced into the judiciary code, with a grade one charge to carry a 200-point penalty (equating to a two-game suspension), while grade two increased to 350 points and grade three to 500.

Match Highlights: Eels v Storm

August 20: Parramatta coach Brad Arthur bristles at suggestions his players feigned injury to win penalties during the team’s 14-0 defeat of injury-hit Melbourne at Bankwest Stadium. Meanwhile, Storm utility Brandon Smith is ruled out until the finals series after suffering a fractured jaw.

Cronulla playmaker Shaun Johnson and Gold Coast captain Kevin Proctor are issued formal warning letters by the NRL for commenting on judiciary matters in public before they are heard.

The Sydney Roosters extend the contract of star five-eighth Luke Keary for a further three seasons, ensuring he will remain with the club until at least the end of the 2024 season.

August 22: The playing future of South Sydney forward Ethan Lowe remains uncertain as he recovers from surgery for a potentially serious spinal injury.

Canberra prop Josh Papalii produces one of the tackles of the season when he brings down runaway Gold Coast captain Jamal Fogarty with an ankle tap during his team’s 36-16 victory at Cbus Super Stadium.

South Sydney charge to the biggest halftime lead in the club’s history (38-0) on the way to a 56-16 demolition of Manly at ANZ Stadium. Coach Wayne Bennett rates the first half "as good a start as I’ve been involved with".

Match Highlights: Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles

August 23: The Sun-Herald reports that a shortfall in sponsorship and gate receipts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will cost high-flying western Sydney clubs Parramatta and Penrith up to $12 million in lost revenue in 2020.

Just three games into his stint with the Knights after a mid-season transfer from the Warriors, veteran five-eighth Blake Green suffers a season-ending torn ACL in Newcastle’s 12-0 defeat of North Queensland. The Bulldogs, with whom Green had signed to play for in 2021, vow to honour their deal with the 34-year-old.

August 24: Long-serving Sydney Roosters second-rower Mitch Aubusson announces that he will retire at the end of the season.

The Broncos’ biggest shareholder, businessman Phil Murphy, likens embattled coach Anthony Seibold to "a cancer" and is adamant he needs to leave the club as soon as possible. "It’s like having a cancer and it has not been cut out," Murphy tells Channel Nine.

Anthony Seibold.
Anthony Seibold. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

"If you don’t treat the cancer you die … and unfortunately and sadly, I don’t want to see the Broncos die."

Murphy tells The Sydney Morning Herald he would be open to selling his stake in the club if a suitable buyer came along.

August 25: Cronulla international Matt Moylan vows to fight back after being dropped from the Sharks’ line-up by coach John Morris.

South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett holds talks with QRL officials about a possible comeback as Maroons State of Origin coach if Kevin Walters is appointed coach of the Broncos.

August 26: Anthony Seibold farewells Broncos players and officials after striking a deal with senior management over the terms of his departure, less than two years into a four-year contract with the club.

"There’s a little bit of relief and a little bit of sadness how it’s finished up," Seibold said. Seibold takes a swipe at social media trolls who contributed to his departure and promises to pursue them through legal channels.

The Gold Coast Titans extend the contact of coach Justin Holbrook until the end of 2024.

August 27: The Rabbitohs’ ecstasy at a 38-0 triumph over Parramatta is tempered by the agony of a season-ending hamstring injury to fullback Latrell Mitchell.

Match Highlights: Eels v Rabbitohs

August 28: Penrith junior and Australian Schoolboys representative, Ratu Nanovo, is suspended for life by the NSWRL after he appears in court charged with stabbing three people following an under-20s match between Penrith Brothers and Wentworthville Magpies at North Parramatta on August 9.

In-demand coaching candidate Craig Fitzgibbon knocks back an approach from St George Illawarra to remain on the coaching staff of the Sydney Roosters.

August 29: The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the NRL has planned to slash $80 million a year as it overhauls its costs structure in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. "What COVID has proven to us is that the cost structure isn’t right," said ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys. "The clubs were making accumulated losses of $33 million per year. That’s not sustainable."

The Knights’ top-four hopes take a battering in Tamworth following a 36-6 loss to the Warriors.

August 30: Broncos fullback Darius Boyd reveals the mental strain endured by players inside the NRL’s COVID-19 bubble and explains that Queensland-based players are subjected to more onerous conditions due to the strict restrictions imposed by the Queensland government.

Darius Boyd in his final NRL game.
Darius Boyd in his final NRL game. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

Parramatta confirm that loan players George Jennings and Daniel Alvaro will not be permitted to play for the Warriors against the Eels under the terms of the loan agreement between the clubs.

August 31: Wests Tigers management confirm that there is no place on the club’s roster for Benji Marshall in 2021.

The Broncos stand down prop Tevita Pangai for the remainder of the season following a series of bio-security breaches. Pangai is given another chance with the club but must fulfill a number of conditions including avoiding social media and undertaking work away from football.