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Roosters forward Sonny Bill Williams in his return to the NRL against Canberra.

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


September 1: Former Newcastle and NSW halfback Jarrod Mullen applies to return to the NRL after serving a four-year ban for using performance-enhancing drugs. The 33-year-old tells The Daily Telegraph he is determined to prove he has turned his life around. The NRL says it won’t consider his application until he has served a court-imposed 300 hours of community service for supplying cocaine.

Cronulla centre Bronson Xerri is notified his B-sample has returned a positive result for a prohibited substance but will have the opportunity to respond to the notice of an alleged doping violation before any sanctions are imposed.

September 3: Andrew Abdo is formally appointed to the full-time role of NRL Chief Executive Officer.

September 4: Todd Payten is announced as coach of the North Queensland Cowboys on a three-year deal. Payten beats former Gold Coast coach John Cartwright, Cowboys interim coach Josh Hannay and former Wigan coach Shaun Wane for the position.

Cronulla halfback Chad Townsend becomes the third player sent from the field in 2020 when he is marched for a shoulder charge on Newcastle fullback Kalyn Ponga.

Townsend sent off for shoulder charge on Ponga

Captain Wade Graham and prop Toby Rudolf also face time on the sidelines after being charged by the NRL’s match review committee following a 38-10 loss. Townsend is suspended for three matches and Graham two, while Rudolf avoids a ban after entering an early guilty plea.

September 5: Sonny Bill Williams makes his much-hyped return to the NRL for the first time since 2014 in a 13-minute cameo for the Sydney Roosters at GIO Stadium. After a lengthy lay-off followed by two weeks in hotel quarantine, Williams makes a modest contribution to an 18-6 victory over the Raiders.

Off-contract five-eighth Kieran Foran faces a premature end to his time with the Bulldogs after tearing a pectoral muscle in an 18-14 loss to the Titans at ANZ Stadium.

September 6: The Sunday Telegraph reports the Roosters have secured the first $5 million playing strip in history with sponsors committed to every position available on the club’s jersey and shorts. In a further boost to the club’s coffers, major sponsors Steggles commit to a new three-year $4 million deal.

Fullback Valentine Holmes kicks a golden point field goal against St George Illawarra to enable the Cowboys to break a 10-game losing streak in a 23-22 victory at QCB Stadium.

St George Illawarra management issue an unreserved apology for racism which former Indigenous star Nathan Blacklock says forced him to leave the club. “I’ve kept this secret for all these years,” Blacklock told The Sun-Herald. “But the reason I lost my passion for the Dragons and left the club was because of racism. It came from the worst place possible within our team environment.”

September 7: Wests Tigers squad members Josh Reynolds and Russell Packer are criticised  by Garry Jack for leaving Brookvale Oval at half-time and failing to support their teammates, who fought back from a 32-18 deficit to defeat the Sea Eagles 34-32. The players claimed they left the players’ dug-out because they were cold.

Manly lose winger Jorge Taufua for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles tendon, while rookie five-eighth Josh Schuster is also ruled out for the remaining games after suffering a syndesmosis injury on his NRL debut against Wests Tigers.

September 8: St George Illawarra announce former Brisbane and Penrith mentor Anthony Griffin as head coach on a two-year deal with a one-year option in the club’s favour.

Dragons react to Griffin announcement

Broncos chairman Karl Morris says he is open to the possibility of Wayne Bennett returning for a third stint with the club as coaching director.

September 9: South Sydney winger Alex Johnston, who faced being cut by the club due to salary cap pressure, re-signs for a further two seasons. The decision to re-sign the prolific try scorer was made after a teenage supporter, Zac Wheeler, gained more than 2500 signatures on a petition designed to pressure the Rabbitohs into retaining Johnston.

Canberra centre Curtis Scott has allegations that he assaulted a police officer and resisted arrest dropped by a magistrate in Downing Centre Local Court.

The NRL informs clubs 30-man squads will remain in 2021 although they should prepare for a reduction in the salary cap of around 10 per cent in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision allays fears that up to 100 players could be cut from the 16 clubs if the top-30 system was scrapped.

September 10: Canterbury sign Manly second-rower Corey Waddell to a three-year deal.

September 11: Canberra re-sign experienced forwards Josh Papalii and Iosia Soliola. Papalii extends his deal to the end of 2024 while Soliola agrees to a new one-year deal.

The game mourns the death of 21-year-old Central Newcastle forward Joel Dark, who collapsed during a first grade clash against Nelson Bay. The cousin of Sydney Roosters captain Boyd Cordner, Dark was playing his debut game in first grade.

St George Illawarra assistant coaches Shane Flanagan and James Shepherd are told their services will not be required under incoming coach Anthony Griffin in 2021.

September 12: Gold Coast defeat the Broncos twice in a season for the first time after securing an 18-6 victory at Cbus Super Stadium. The Broncos remain in wooden spoon territory after a ninth consecutive loss.

Match Highlights: Titans v Broncos

The top eight is decided two weeks out from the finals after Cronulla account for the Warriors 22-14 at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.

September 13: The NRL announces participation in the game by women and girls has skyrocketed by 147 per cent since 2015. They also confirm a 98 per cent increase in female coaches and a 59 per cent increase in female referees for the same period. The news comes as ARL Commissioner Katie Page launches the 14th annual Women in League round.

September 15: NRL Head of Football Graham Annesley announces immediate changes to the video referee process by axing former players Beau Scott, Bryan Norrie and Ben Galea and restoring the system to a one-person operation. Annesley claims the change will simplify decision-making.

Wests Tigers sign former Test and premiership-winning prop James Tamou to a two-year contract.

Melbourne Storm officials admit they erred by not including a clause in their ground-breaking player swap/loan arrangement with Wests Tigers that would have prevented hooker Harry Grant from playing against the Storm.

September 16: Premiership-winning forward John Asiata informs the Cowboys of his decision to quit the club at the end of the season.

September 17: Last-placed Canterbury upset South Sydney 26-16 at ANZ Stadium to leave the Broncos in danger of being lumbered with the wooden spoon for the first time in the club’s 33-year history.

Troubled second-rower Bryce Cartwright is officially released by the Titans, allowing him to return to Sydney.

September 18: Melbourne prop Christian Welch apologises for breaching biosecurity protocols by having an unregistered guest at the Storm’s Sunshine Coast hub. Welch is immediately stood down, forced to undergo a COVID-19 test and placed into isolation. He is later fined $20,000 ($10,000 suspended) by the NRL.

Penrith secure their first minor premiership title since 2003 after accounting for North Queensland 32-12 at QCB Stadium in Townsville.

Former Canberra and Leeds coach David Furner is appointed assistant coach to Trent Barrett at Canterbury for 2021.

September 19: Sydney Roosters veteran Mitch Aubusson surpasses Anthony Minichiello as the most capped player in the history of the foundation club when he makes his 303rd top grade appearance in his team’s Round 19 clash with Cronulla at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Aubusson celebrates with two tries in a 34-18 victory.

Aubusson gets a double in his milestone match

Touch judge Phil Henderson is stood down by NRL head of football Graham Annesley after he failed to detect that Rabbitohs winger Jaxon Paulo had placed a foot on the sideline before touching down for a try in the Rd 19 clash against the Bulldogs. Referee Ashley Klein awarded the try without consulting the video referee.

Luckless Manly fullback Tom Trbojevic suffers a shoulder injury in his comeback from a hamstring injury as the Sea Eagles crash to a 42-24 loss to the Gold Coast at Lottoland.

The NRL hands down a $15,000 fine to Canberra centre Curtis Scott for being drunk in public on Australia Day, which led to his arrest. Police charges alleging assault and resisting arrest were thrown out by a Sydney court but the NRL deemed the fine an appropriate penalty.

September 20: The Sunday Telegraph reports Queensland and Newcastle prop Tim Glasby will retire.

The Sydney Roosters receive a boost ahead of the NRLW premiership with the signing of Rugby Sevens Olympic gold medallist Charlotte Caslick.

Canberra coach Ricky Stuart launches a stinging attack on the NRL and match officials following a 26-14 comeback victory over the Warriors at GIO Stadium. Stuart threw a water bottle from the coach’s box in frustration late in the first half after five-eighth Jack Wighton was sent to the sin bin. He is later fined $10,000 by the NRL.

September 22: Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy makes the call to rest the bulk of his top squad for the clash with St George Illawarra to ensure their fitness in the run to the playoffs. Canberra coach Ricky Stuart follows suit by resting a swathe of stars for his team’s clash with Cronulla. The Sydney Morning Herald estimates that $12 million of NRL talent will be watching Round 20 from the sidelines.

The NRL announces a series of proposed rule changes to be trialled in final round matches that do not have finals ramifications. The changes to be trialled include: the "six-again" rule to be used for 10-metre infringements; a handover to replace scrums for all kicks for touch in general play; forwards only to pack into scrums and a change in the bunker referral process aimed at reducing stoppages.

New Canterbury coach Trent Barrett makes the call to release eight players ahead of the 2021 season, including long-serving prop Aiden Tolman. Others let go are Kieran Foran, Marcelo Montoya, Jack Cogger, Sauaso Sue, Tim Lafai, Isaiah Tass and Kerrod Holland.

Manly prop Addin Fonua-Blake confirms via social media that he has accepted a three-year deal with the Warriors. Fonua-Blake stunned the Sea Eagles when he requested a release because he wanted to leave Sydney with his family.

September 23: Despite being ruled out of the Warriors’ final round clash against Manly with a hamstring injury, captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck knocks back the chance to fly home early to reunite with his family after an absence of five months, to see out the season with team-mates and staff.

Match Highlights: Broncos v Cowboys

September 24: The Broncos are condemned to the wooden spoon for the first time in the club’s history after falling 32-16 to North Queensland at Suncorp Stadium. A torn ACL suffered by centre Kotoni Staggs adds to a dismal night for the former premiership powerhouse.

Kiwi international Kieran Foran accepts a one-year deal to return to Manly in 2021.

September 25: South Sydney hand their arch-rivals the Roosters one of the heaviest defeats in the club’s history with a 60-8 decimation at ANZ Stadium. Winger Alex Johnston leads the Rabbitohs’ 10-try onslaught with his second career haul of five tries. Johnston becomes the sixth player to score 100 tries for the foundation club.

The Gold Coast Titans equal a club record five consecutive victories when they thump finals-bound Newcastle 36-6 at Cbus Super Stadium.

September 26: Cronulla achieve an unwanted distinction by becoming the first side in the NRL era to qualify for the finals without defeating another top-eight team during the regular season. The "record" is achieved after a 38-28 loss to a makeshift Canberra line-up at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy confirms he will stand aside at the end of the 2021 season which will be his 19th season in charge of the club.

Benji Marshall’s last game for Wests Tigers ends with injury and disappointment when he is forced from the field after only 18 minutes against Parramatta. Marshall suffers a knee injury (MCL) and broken ribs in a brutal tackle before the Tigers go down 28-24 at Bankwest Stadium. The Tigers also farewell club stalwart Chris Lawrence after 253 games for the club.

Match Highlights: Warriors v Sea Eagles

The Warriors end the club’s most challenging season with a 40-28 defeat of Manly at Central Coast Stadium. Veteran forward Adam Blair is farewelled with victory and an emotion-charged haka by team-mates.

September 27: Canterbury prop Luke Thompson is referred directly to the judiciary after being charged with eye-gouging Penrith captain James Tamou at ANZ Stadium. The Englishman is later outed for four matches.

September 28: Former players Andrew Johns and Greg Alexander urge the NRL to crack down on the dangerous “hip drop tackle” in which players fall on the back of attacking players’ legs to bring them down.

The NRL announces it would not be docking Dally M points from players suspended for off-field incidents, leaving Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary as an overwhelming favourite to take out the 2020 title. He could have been docked six points over his two-game suspension for breaching COVID protocols and lying to the NRL Integrity Unit.

The Canberra Raiders announce the return of Canberra Milk as major sponsor for 2021 after technology company Huawei informed the club it would be ending its sponsorship at the end of the 2020 season.

September 29: Rising Cronulla forward Fine Kula is cleared of cancer by doctors despite being diagnosed with stage four brain cancer less than 12 months earlier.

Newcastle lock Mitch Barnett is cleared by an NRL investigation of directing a racial slur towards Gold Coast utility Tyrone Peachey due to a lack of evidence. The pair are referred to a reconciliation process.

September 30: Kevin Walters is officially appointed coach of the Brisbane Broncos on a two-year deal.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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