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NRL 2020: The major news stories of July

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

July

July 1: The Melbourne Storm set up a temporary headquarters on the Sunshine Coast following a spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria. Coach Craig Bellamy suggests "I wouldn't be surprised if we were here [in Queensland] for the rest of the season."

July 2: The Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters produce an epic contest at Suncorp Stadium before the Storm snatch a 27-25 victory in golden point. The teams trade field goals in the final minute of regulation time before Storm captain Cameron Smith decides the contest with a golden point penalty goal. Roosters twins Brett and Josh Morris take their combined career try-scoring tally beyond 300.

Match Highlights: Storm v Roosters

July 3: Parramatta winger Maika Sivo responds to the return of crowds to NSW matches (limited to 25 per cent of venue capacity) with four tries in the Eels' 42-4 demolition of North Queensland at Bankwest Stadium. Chants of "Sivo Sivo" ring loudly across the ground.

Cronulla forward Toby Rudolf turns his back on a lucrative contract with the Warriors to remain close to his family in Sydney.

Ricky Stuart achieves his 200th win as coach as the Raiders account for St George Illawarra 22-16 at GIO Stadium. The Raiders' forward stocks take a beating with Iosia Soliola (facial fractures) and Emre Guler (ankle) joining John Bateman (shoulder) and Corey Horsburgh (foot) in the casualty ward.

July 4: The Broncos' woes intensify after they blow a 10-0 lead against the Warriors to fall 26-16 at Central Coast Stadium. It is Brisbane's sixth straight defeat. Broncos CEO Paul White holds a news conference (July 5) insisting that the club would continue to support coach Anthony Seibold.

Cronulla fullback Matt Moylan suffers yet another hamstring injury as the Sharks easily account for the Titans 40-10 at Cbus Super Stadium. It is the ninth time in three years that Moylan has been sidelined with hamstring trouble.

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary comes under fire for reacting to an expletive-laden tirade from a Wests Tigers fan by blowing kisses from the coaches' box after his team downs the Tigers 19-12 at Bankwest Stadium.

Cleary explains incident in coaches box

July 5: Manly's clash with Newcastle ends in high drama at Lottoland when video referee Jared Maxwell fails to call for a penalty after a late challenge on Sea Eagles winger Tevita Funa that could have led to a golden point finish. Sea Eagles prop Addin Fonua-Blake is sent off after the full-time siren for calling referee Grant Atkins a "f….ing retard". He is later suspended for two matches and fined $20,000 after it was revealed he aimed further incendiary remarks at match officials in the players' tunnel.

The fallout from the no-penalty call for the Sea Eagles

July 9: News Corp papers report that the Gold Coast have made Brisbane second-rower David Fifita a mammoth $1.25 million offer to join the club in 2021 after the 20-year-old initially accepted a $1.1 million offer from the Titans before having a change of heart.

Canterbury CEO Andrew Hill outlines plans for a 25,000-seat stadium to be built at the club's spiritual home of Belmore Sports Ground. "While it is very preliminary and subject to NSW's stadium policy, we absolutely want Belmore to be at the front and centre of that discussion," Hill says.

Sydney Roosters winger Matt Ikuvalu, a last-minute inclusion after Brett Morris is inconvenienced by a groin injury in the warm-up, scores five tries in a 42-16 thumping of North Queensland at Queensland Country Bank Stadium. Ikuvalu becomes the first Roosters player to score five tries in a game since Brian Allsop in 1955.

High five for Ikuvalu

July 10: South Sydney winger Dane Gagai scores the first hat-trick of his NRL career in the Rabbitohs' 18-10 defeat of Wests Tigers at Bankwest Stadium. Tigers five-eighth Josh Reynolds is reported for striking Souths centre Campbell Graham with his boot, while Rabbitohs fullback Latrell Mitchell is charged with striking Reynolds in retaliation. Both are suspended for two games.

July 11: Melbourne captain Cameron Smith notches the 300th win of his NRL career as the Storm down Canberra 20-14 at GIO Stadium. The Raiders suffer a devastating blow to their premiership chances when hooker Josh Hodgson ruptures his ACL, while winger Bailey Simonsson is also ruled out for the rest of the season with a dislocated shoulder.

The Broncos break through for their first win since the resumption of the premiership after accounting for last-placed Canterbury 26-8 at Suncorp Stadium.

Teenager Charlie Staines scores four tries on debut as Penrith rout Cronulla 56-24 at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium. Staines becomes the first player since Gold Coast winger Jordan Atkins in 2008 to achieve such a feat. The 19-year-old's effort almost renders the Post Office Hotel dry in his home town of Forbes after the publican offered a free round of drinks if the youngster scored a try. Staines' dream debut is soured when he breaks the NRL's stringent COVID restrictions by inviting 10 people into his house after the game. He is forced to undertake two weeks of isolation.

Match Highlights: Sharks v Panthers

July 13: Sydney Roosters fullback James Tedesco is named the number one player in the game in the NRL's 2020 Players' Poll, while Trent Robinson is named the leading coach.

St George Illawarra announce the signing of Penrith forward Kaide Ellis for the remainder of the 2020 season.

Canterbury rookie Jake Averillo is forced into isolation after his parents attended the Crossroads Hotel at Casula, where a patron tested positive to COVID-19.

The NRL's independent appeals committee overturn the deregistration of Canterbury pair Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor following their pre-season misdemeanours in Port Macquarie, leaving the Bulldogs to decide on the playing future of the two.

July 14: Dean Pay stands down immediately as Canterbury coach after the club's board decide not to reappoint him for the 2021 season. Assistant coach Steve Georgallis is appointed in a caretaker capacity.

North Queensland suffer a double injury blow as Valentine Holmes undergoes arthroscopic surgery on an ankle injury, while five-eighth Scott Drinkwater recovers from an MCL rupture.

Parramatta re-sign hooker Reed Mahoney until the end of the 2022 season.

July 16: Injury-hit Canberra stage one of the biggest upsets of the season by downing the Sydney Roosters 24-20 in the grand final rematch at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The Roosters fall to defeat for the first time in 11 games at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Match Highlights: Roosters v Raiders

Five players and staff members from Wests Tigers and two from Penrith are sent for COVID-19 testing as a coronavirus cluster spreads in south-western Sydney. All seven individuals return negative results.

Canberra's State of Origin winger Nick Cotric agrees to a three-year deal with Canterbury.

July 17: The NRL's independent appeals committee reinstates the contracts of Canterbury pair Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor, who were stood down in March for breaching the game's code of conduct by bringing schoolgirls back to the team's hotel during a pre-season trip to Port Macquarie.

The Broncos' stocks slump to a new low when they are crushed 48-0 by Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval. The Tigers score nine tries in the record win and claim their first shut-out since 2012.

Match Highlights: Wests Tigers v Broncos

July 18: Manly stun competition leaders Parramatta with a 22-18 victory at Lottoland.

July 19: Penrith claim the outright competition lead for the first time since 2003 when they see off North Queensland 22-10 at Panthers Stadium.

July 20: Premiership-winning coach Paul Green parts ways with the Cowboys after being told by chairman Lewis Ramsay that he would not be in charge in 2021. Green is immediately linked to the Brisbane Broncos despite the club insisting that Anthony Seibold's position is safe. Former Cowboys and Queensland Origin centre Josh Hannay is appointed interim coach at North Queensland.

South Sydney suffer a double injury blow with news that centre James Roberts (pectoral) and second-rower Ethan Lowe (neck) were unlikely to play again in 2020.

The Bulldogs announce the return of centre Tim Lafai to the club after he is granted an immediate release by St George Illawarra. Lafai played 71 games for the Bulldogs between 2011 and 2015 including the 2014 grand final before joining the Dragons.

July 21: The Brisbane Broncos tell injury-plagued star Jack Bird that he is free to negotiate with rival clubs and is prepared to pay part of the final year of his contract as part of a transfer deal.

Wests Tigers' Round 12 clash against the Warriors is transferred from Campbelltown Stadium to the Sydney Cricket Ground due to a spike in coronavirus cases in south-west Sydney.

July 22: Canterbury announce the signing of Trent Barrett as coach until the end of the 2023 season. Barrett decides to remain in his assistant coaching role at Penrith for the rest of the season.

The Australian Rugby Union is reported to have snuck under the guard of South Sydney to sign teenage prodigy Joseph Suaalii to a stunning $3 million deal. However according to the Daily Telegraph (July 28) Suaalii turned his back on the ARU offer after he was flown by private jet to the North Coast property of Rabbitohs' owner Russell Crowe.

Former Bulldog Corey Harawira-Naera comes to terms with the Canberra Raiders.

Sydney Roosters chairman Nick Politis negotiates with Sonny Bill Williams' agent Khoder Nasser for the code-hopping superstar to rejoin the Roosters following the withdrawal of his club the Toronto Wolfpack from the English Super League competition.

July 23: The Sydney Roosters release rookie winger Asu Kepaoa to the Wests Tigers, freeing space in the salary cap to clear the way for Sonny Bill Williams to return.

July 24: An early display of fighting spirit by the Broncos is soon quelled by the Melbourne Storm who hand the embattled club a 46-8 pasting. It is Brisbane's eighth loss from their past nine games.

Parramatta agree to loan prop Daniel Alvaro and winger George Jennings to the Warriors as the New Zealand club prepares to farewell wingers Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu'a and forwards Agnatius Paasi and King Vuniyayawa. The quartet were allowed to return home on compassionate grounds.

July 25: The Gold Coast make the most significant player signing in the club's history by landing the signature of Brisbane second-rower David Fifita to a three-year deal. "I am extremely excited by David committing to our club for the next three years," says coach Justin Holbrook.

Cronulla hold off St George Illawarra 28-24 in a thrilling local derby at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium but the contest is overshadowed by a video refereeing controversy that proves costly to the Dragons. Video officials Stephen Clark and Ben Galea are immediately stood down.

Match Highlights: Sharks v Dragons

July 26: ARLC Chairman Peter V'Landys says he is prepared to "bend the rules" to allow Sonny Bill Williams to return to the NRL. Under the game's existing rules, players are prevented from holding two contracts at the one time, which would mean Williams would need to walk away from his $10 million Toronto Wolfpack contract in order to take up an NRL deal. "In any good corporate governance you've got to have flexibility," V'landys told the Sydney Morning Herald. "The Commission can allow applications for extraordinary cases and at the moment we are in extraordinary times."

July 27: The Daily Telegraph reports that Phil Gould has been involved in high-level discussions with ARL Commission chairman Peter V'Landys to take on a consultancy position at NRL Central.

NRL head of football Graham Annesley says a review into the cost and effectiveness of the Bunker could lead to the use of alternative technology to assist referees.

July 28: The NRL is reported to be considering scrapping the minimum age restriction for NRL players to allow teenage prodigy Joseph Suaalii to make his NRL debut for the Rabbitohs in 2021 before he turns 18.

Canterbury announce a major sponsorship deal with Laundy Hotels that will run through to the end of the 2022 season.

July 30: South Sydney kick off Indigenous Round with a stirring 32-24 victory over St George Illawarra after trailing 16-0 early in the contest. Indigenous stars Alex Johnston (three tries), Cody Walker (two) and Latrell Mitchell (try and four goals) score all 32 of the Rabbitohs' points.

Match Highlights: Dragons v Rabbitohs

The Daily Telegraph reports that Sonny Bill Williams will be paid $150,000 to play the final four games of the regular season for the Sydney Roosters and any finals matches the club plays.

South Sydney fullback Latrell Mitchell contemplated quitting the game throughout the 2019 off-season following a torrent of racial abuse on social media, according to an interview by the Daily Telegraph.

Sonny Bill Williams flies into Sydney with his family and prepares to spend two weeks in compulsory hotel quarantine before linking with the Roosters.

Brisbane tyro Herbie Farnworth knocks back interest from a range of clubs to re-sign with the Broncos for another two seasons.

July 31: Warriors second-rower Eliesa Katoa and injured teammate Selestino Ravutaumada face an uncertain future after learning that COVID-19 border restrictions will prevent their return to New Zealand because they are not citizens of the country.

The Brisbane Broncos issue a formal apology to former international Steve Renouf after the Indigenous star claimed he was subjected to racial abuse during his time at the club.