As part of the NRL 2020 Annual recounting the major news stories in rugby league, David Middleton looks back at June.
June 1: ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys pushes the idea of diverting funds earmarked for the redevelopment of ANZ Stadium into refurbishing suburban venues at Brookvale, Campbelltown and Kogarah.
The game’s reboot after almost 10 weeks in lockdown is hailed a major success, while the return to one referee and the new six-again rule are given a near-universal vote of approval following Round 3 matches. Bumper television audiences, less wrestling, fewer injuries and more action are the key changes.
Australia’s three-match Ashes series with Great Britain is officially cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, with organisers looking to 2022 as a possible replacement date.
June 3: Canberra second-rower John Bateman faces an indefinite period on the sidelines as he undergoes a second bout of surgery on an injured shoulder.
The Daily Telegraph reports that Tyson Frizell’s three-year deal with the Newcastle Knights, jeopardised by the game’s financial crisis, is approved by the NRL.
June 4: The Sydney Roosters hand the Broncos the biggest hiding in the club’s history by demolishing them 59-0 at Suncorp Stadium. The Broncos fielded one of their most inexperienced line-ups, however, the Roosters were missing Dally M player of the year James Tedesco, who was forced to undergo a test for COVID-19 after waking with an elevated temperature.
The Broncos announce the signing of 33-year-old forward Ben Te’o to a one-year deal after he was released from Japanese rugby outfit the Sunwolves.
Match Highlights: Broncos v Roosters
The Bulldogs draw the ire of the NRL after club legend Terry Lamb breaches COVID-19 protocols by shaking hands with players at a Belmore training session. Lamb is forced to undergo COVID-19 testing, while the Bulldogs were prevented from training until the result of the test (negative) was known.
The NRL ask bookmakers to abandon all betting on the Dally M awards after further suspicious betting fluctuations on the 2019 award come to light. Two employees of a company contracted to the NRL to monitor voting were charged by police on May 28 with using inside information to bet on an event.
Rookie St George Illawarra winger Jason Saab requests an immediate release from his contract however the Dragons stand their ground.
June 5: The NSW Government announces that fans will be allowed to attend matches from Round 5 (June 11) in accordance with COVID-19 protocols relating to pubs and clubs. The decision means up to 50 people will be permitted per catering area, as long as the ratio of one person per four square metres is observed.
Manly's final play raid called back for forward pass
June 6: NRL Head of Football Graham Annesley admits a touch judge error cost Manly a match-winning try in its 19-16 loss to Parramatta at Bankwest Stadium. Referee Ben Cummins rules a forward pass from Tom Trbojevic to winger Reuben Garrick on the advice of touch judge Liam Kennedy however replays confirm the pass floated forward after the ball travelled backward out of Trbojevic’s hands. Annesley says the NRL will re-examine technology that could allow the video referee to rule on forward passes.
Six Cronulla players fail temperature checks on arrival at Townsville’s Queensland Country Bank Stadium before the team’s clash with North Queensland but are subsequently cleared to play, helping the Sharks to the club’s first win of the season. Under NRL protocols the game could have been called off if at least four players had failed subsequent temperature checks.
June 7: The Gold Coast Titans deliver Justin Holbrook his first win as NRL coach after a last-ditch 28-23 win over Wests Tigers. It is the Titans’ first win in 364 days and ends a club record run of 14 consecutive losses.
McGregor not scared of what is ahead
June 8: St George Illawarra slump to their fourth straight loss after a 22-2 thumping from Canterbury at Bankwest Stadium. Calls for the sacking of coach Paul McGregor reach a crescendo, however, a meeting of the Dragons board (June 9) offer him more time to turn the struggling club around.
June 9: Brisbane coach Anthony Seibold wields the axe following his team’s record loss to the Sydney Roosters. Jesse Arthars, Jamil Hopoate and Ethan Bullemor are dumped from the 17-man squad to face Manly, while Corey Oates is shifted from the wing to second row.
The NRL announces that the NRLW competition will go ahead in 2020 allaying concerns that it would be scrapped in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The NRL agree to provide funding for the four-team competition.
Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire reacts to his team’s loss to the Gold Coast in Round 4 by dropping five players, including co-captain Benji Marshall, for the clash with Canberra.
June 10: NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro says: "It’s time to set the NRL loose" and allow stadiums to be filled to capacity within a fortnight.
Wests Tigers star Benji Marshall breaches COVID-19 protocols by greeting a female reporter with a kiss on the cheek at a Tigers training session. Marshall was sent home while the reporter underwent testing, a negative result allowing him to return the following day.
St George Illawarra rookie Tristan Sailor joins team-mate Jason Saab in requesting a release from the battling club.
Match Highlights: Sea Eagles v Broncos
June 11: Cronulla strengthen the depth in their outside backs by signing journeyman winger Nene MacDonald to a one-year deal.
Manly fight back from an 18-0 deficit to achieve their biggest comeback win in eight years when they down the Broncos 20-18 at Central Coast Stadium.
June 12: The Daily Telegraph reports that former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones has been mentioned as a possible successor to John Morris at Cronulla.
The NSWRL introduce strict new concussion protocols for junior competitions, ruling that any player who is concussed must be immediately removed from the field and banned from contact, including training, for 14 days.
Parramatta secure their best start to a season since they last won the premiership in 1986 when they overcome western neighbours Penrith 16-10 at Bankwest Stadium.
St Helens prop Luke Thompson seeks an immediate release from his Super League club to link with Canterbury. Thompson had originally signed for 2021 however the impact of COVID-19 and the indefinite shutdown of the UK competition provided the Bulldogs with an opportunity to snare the Test forward ahead of the original deal.
Match Highlights: Wests Tigers v Raiders
June 13: Ricky Stuart celebrates his 400th game as NRL coach after his Raiders team score a gritty 14-6 victory over Wests Tigers at Campbelltown Stadium.
Former Kiwi Test hooker Issac Luke is released from his contract with St George Illawarra after just three appearances with the club to take up an opportunity with the Broncos.
Premiership-winning Cronulla forward Jayson Bukuya announces his immediate retirement from the game after a 13-year career in the NRL.
Brisbane coach Anthony Seibold hires former Broncos player and renowned defensive coach Peter Ryan to add steel to his team’s tackling.
June 14: A coronavirus scare forces the NRL into a dramatic 11th-hour rescheduling of matches. A teacher at a southern Sydney school attended by one of Canterbury prop Aiden Tolman’s children tests positive to COVID-19, forcing Tolman into isolation and 49 Bulldogs players and officials to take immediate tests to ensure they have not contracted the virus.
NRL officials postpone the Bulldogs-Roosters clash until Monday night (7pm) and bring forward the Cronulla-St George Illawarra fixture from 6.30pm to fill the 4pm free-to-air television timeslot.
The Sunday Telegraph reports that the NRL is planning to conduct a feasibility study into the purchase of its own private jet to reduce travel times and lower accommodation costs for teams. "I’m going to crunch the numbers on it," says ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys.
St George Illawarra record their first victory in 281 days after overpowering Cronulla 30-16 at Campbelltown Stadium.
The game mourns the loss of Team of the Century hooker Noel Kelly, who passes away at his northern beaches home in Sydney at the age of 84.
June 15: All Bulldogs players and officials return negative results to coronavirus, however, prop Aiden Tolman is required to undergo 14 days isolation because of his more direct contact with a positive case.
Wests Tigers release utility back Corey Thompson to enable him to make an immediate move to the Gold Coast Titans.
Dally M winner James Tedesco produces one of the most dominant performances of his career in Sydney Roosters’ 42-6 despatch of Canterbury at Bankwest Stadium. Tedesco scores a hat-trick of tries and records two try assists, two line breaks, 10 tackle breaks and attacking gains of 230 metres.
Match Highlights: Bulldogs v Roosters
June 16: The NRL warns coaches who attempt to deliberately flout the game’s new rules that their teams will pay with immediate sin bins for professional fouls.
Newcastle fullback Kalyn Ponga commits to a four-year contract extension with the Knights, reported to be worth more than $4 million. The deal means Ponga will remain in Newcastle until at least 2024.
June 17: The Daily Telegraph claims that the South Australian government is prepared to outlay $6 million to secure the opening State of Origin match for 2020 because it could be worth as much as $18 million to the local economy. A deal hangs on the easing of crowd restrictions in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
The NRL grand final is expected to return to ANZ Stadium in 2020 following the decision of the NSW government to abandon its planned redevelopment of the venue, according to the Daily Telegraph. A decision to move the decider from the SCG to ANZ Stadium could be worth up to $5 million to the NRL.
Teenage sensation Joseph Suaalii agrees to a $1.7 million deal to join South Sydney but the deal is unable to be registered with the NRL until he turns 17 on August 1. It is reportedly the richest contract for a teenager in the history of either rugby code.
Parramatta sign former Gold Coast and Wests Tigers utility back Jordan Rankin for the remainder of the 2020 season.
June 19: The Daily Telegraph reports that Canterbury have mounted a multi-million dollar bid to attract Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy to the club.
South Sydney send a detailed survey to all 30,000 members asking them where the club should play their home matches – at a rebuilt Sydney Football Stadium, Bankwest Stadium, or should they remain at ANZ Stadium.
Bennett staunch in support for Mitchell
Fringe players from Penrith and Melbourne meet in an official seven-a-side "scrimmage" at Campbelltown Stadium to provide much-needed match practice following the cancellation of second-tier competitions in NSW and Queensland.
South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett refuses to reveal why star fullback Latrell Mitchell left the field in tears following his team’s 40-12 defeat of the Warriors at Bankwest Stadium. The Sunday Telegraph reports (June 21) that the prolonged period away from his family, forced by COVID-19 restrictions, had led to Mitchell’s display of raw emotion.
"Unlike the rest of us, the players have been unable to integrate back into society," said Rabbitohs CEO Blake Solly. "They have been going to training and back home again. There’s a whole family network of support that players like Latrell lean on for support, which physically, hasn’t been there for some time."
The NRL announces that clubs will be free to return to their regular home venues in Round 8 (July 2) as COVID-19 restrictions are eased in New South Wales and Queensland. Initially, crowds are to be capped at 25 percent of a venue’s capacity.
Match Highlights: Roosters v Eels
June 20: The Sydney Roosters outlast Parramatta 24-10 in an epic contest at Bankwest Stadium. The Eels hit the front after winger Maika Sivo tramples Roosters fullback James Tedesco on the way to a second-half try but the Roosters display their champion qualities to rally strongly.
English prop James Graham plays his final game in the NRL as St George Illawarra down the Gold Coast 20-8 at Suncorp Stadium. Graham secured a release from the Dragons (June 26) to rejoin St Helens in the English Super League.
June 21: The NRL reaches agreement with state governments in NSW and Queensland to ease strict lockdown protocols on players, allowing them to enjoy much of the freedom experienced by the rest of the country. "They [NRL players] will [soon] be able to go and get a coffee, they will be able to go to the supermarket, they can go and play golf," said ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys.
Warriors owners take the drastic decision to sack coach Stephen Kearney, effective immediately and hand the reins to interim coach Todd Payten. Players are stunned at the announcement, crediting Kearney with holding the team together while it relocated to Australia and players were forced to live away from their families from mid-May.
Phil Gould suggests in his weekly The Sun-Herald column that the NRL should consider buying out the English Super League to assist in the development of the code across the globe.
Manly produce one of the most stoic performances in the club’s history to deny Canberra at Campbelltown Stadium. Already missing key personnel, the Sea Eagles lose five-eighth Dylan Walker and centre Brad Parker in the opening minutes and star fullback Tom Trbojevic (hamstring) after halftime but hold on to win 14-6.
Canterbury centre Dallin Watene-Zelezniak rocks Cronulla fullback (and former Panthers team-mate) Matt Moylan with one of the tackles of the season at Bankwest Stadium.
June 22: The NRL is forced to reschedule Melbourne’s Round 7 clash with the Warriors from AAMI Park to Kogarah’s Netstrata Jubilee Stadium following a spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria. The Round 7 game between Penrith and South Sydney set down for Campbelltown Stadium is also rescheduled for Kogarah due to the state of the Campbelltown playing surface.
Canterbury prop Aiden Tolman feared he would be responsible for shutting down the NRL as he awaited his test result for COVID-19 following a positive result at his child’s school.
June 23: Newcastle centre Bradman Best breaches COVID-19 protocols by visiting his parents’ house on the NSW Central Coast. Best was unaware that pre-approval was required before visiting anyone but self-reported when he realised he may have been in breach of the game’s strict bio-security rules. He is stood down from playing and forced to self-isolate for one week.
The Melbourne Storm is forced to vacate Victoria as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise and after setting up a temporary base in Sydney the club applies to the Queensland government for a possible lengthier relocation to the Sunshine Coast.
South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett is forced to deny rumours linking him to possible coaching deals with the Warriors, St George Illawarra and Canterbury. "It’s crazy stuff – I must be the busiest coach in the NRL," Bennett says.
June 24: The Daily Telegraph reports that NRL clubs are showing interest in Wallaby winger Marika Koroibete, in anticipation of the ARU not being able to guarantee his $600,000 contract in 2021.
The NSWRL extend the contract of State of Origin coach Brad Fittler until the end of 2021.
Match Highlights: Panthers v Rabbitohs
June 25: Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary defies a facial infection that hampered his eyesight to inspire the Panthers to a 20-12 victory over South Sydney. Immortal Andrew Johns described Cleary’s performance as "the best game I have seen Nathan play".
June 26: The Sydney Roosters’ bid for a hat-trick of premierships receives a devastating double blow at Bankwest Stadium when lock Victor Radley and hooker Sam Verrills suffer season-ending ACL injuries in their team’s Round 7 clash with St George Illawarra. The Bankwest surface comes under the microscope after extensive usage in the post-COVID period, but it passes all inspections.
Leading referee Gerard Sutton is forced to undergo two weeks self-isolation after his child came into close contact with a COVID-positive teacher at Camden High School.
Five days after the shock sacking of coach Stephen Kearney, the Warriors are thumped 50-6 by the Melbourne Storm. "I question whether – across the park – we had players that were willing to put their bodies on the line," said interim coach Todd Payten.
Match Highlights: Storm v Warriors
June 27: The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Melbourne Storm co-owner Bart Campbell is behind moves for private investors to buy a 20 per cent stake in the NRL, which it claims could be worth $600 million.
ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys holds talks with the Warriors in a bid to convince several homesick players to remain in Australia while he continues to work with state and federal officials to establish a "trans-Tasman bubble" which would allow players’ family members to join them in Australia. The Sun-Herald (June 28) reports that Ken Maumalo, David Fusitu’a and Agnatius Paasi have told club management they want to return to New Zealand however the trio agree to stay until July 19.
Parramatta suffer an injury blow in their golden point win over Canberra at Bankwest Stadium when halfback Mitchell Moses is forced from the field with a torn calf muscle.
The Brisbane Broncos strike a new low when they fall 30-12 to the Gold Coast at Suncorp Stadium. The club’s fifth straight loss leaves them languishing in second last position on the competition ladder.
June 29: South Sydney winger Alex Johnston reveals he is likely to be squeezed out of the club at the end of the 2020 season due to salary cap pressures.
June 30: The playing surface at Bankwest Stadium undergoes an immediate $500,000 turf makeover after hosting 11 NRL games in the space of 23 days.
South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett reacts angrily at claims by coach Anthony Seibold and chairman Karl Morris that the Broncos were in need of a rebuild after he left the club in 2018. "It was my intention to remain silent but if the Brisbane chairman or any other person at the Broncos wants to make false assertions, I will set the record straight," Bennett says.
"I’m correcting the record here. The chairman must be oblivious to the running of the club. If the roster was so bad, why would Anthony Seibold take the job?”
The NRL announces an adjustment to the new "six-again rule" after teams have been using their markers to flood space in and around the ruck. Referees are now able to restart the tackle count if players do not stand square at marker or break early from the marker position.