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North Queensland raise the 2020 NRL Nines trophy.

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

November 2019

November 21: Melbourne captain Cameron Smith confirms his decision to play on in 2020, declaring he is "feeling really fresh now and looking forward to next year".

Wests Tigers re-sign talented rookie Tommy Talau until the end of the 2022 season.

November 22: The Sydney Roosters extend the contract of premiership-winning prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves through to the end of 2023.

Wests Tigers sneak under Parramatta’s guard to sign promising Eels’ front-rower Stefano Utoikamanu to a three-year deal, starting in 2021.

A meeting of NRL coaches hears a proposal for teams defeated in golden point to be rewarded under a revised allocation of competition points. Only half of the NRL’s 16 coaches attend the meeting where several other initiatives are discussed, including an NFL-style golden point "right of reply", where both teams have an opportunity with the ball in the extra-time period.

November 25: Cronulla back-rower Kurt Capewell signs a two-year contract with Penrith.

Panthers forward Kurt Capewell.
Panthers forward Kurt Capewell. ©NRL Photos

Gold Coast head of culture and performance, Mal Meninga, declares he can help Latrell Mitchell reach his full potential as the Sydney Roosters’ star continues to weigh up his future.

RLPA chief executive Ian Prendergast announces he will stand down in April 2020 after four years at the helm.

November 26: South Sydney’s hopes of signing former Parramatta flyer Semi Radradra, who was reportedly keen to return to the NRL, are dashed when the owner of Bristol Rugby club offers a $3 million two-year deal.

November 27: Cronulla announce an historic partnership with the Kaiviti Silktails, the Fijian team that will compete in the third-tier Ron Massey Cup competition in 2020.

Parramatta forward David Gower is appointed to a senior management role at the club while still an active member of the first-grade squad. Gower is named NSWRL elite pathways well-being manager.

Canterbury centre Will Hopoate extends his contract with the club until the end of 2021.

Cronulla prop Matt Prior agrees to a three-year contract with Leeds, which results in former Test prop Trent Merrin securing a release from Leeds to return to St George Illawarra and Dragons back-rower Luciano Leilua joining Wests Tigers on a three-year deal.

St George Illawarra announce former Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has been appointed to an assistant coaching role in 2020. Deregistered by the NRL in 2018 for breaching the teams of a 2014 suspension, Flanagan is prohibited from taking up a head coaching position until 2022.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg pledges an annual grant of $250,000 for one of the largest studies of concussion in world sport to be undertaken by Harvard Medical School.

November 28: Former St George Illawarra assistant coach Ben Hornby is appointed by South Sydney as a development coach.

Wests Tigers withdraw their multimillion-dollar offer for dual-premiership winner Latrell Mitchell after Mitchell declines to travel from Taree to Sydney for a face-to-face meeting with coach Michael Maguire and the coaching staff.

Canberra agree to release playmaker Aidan Sezer from the final year of his contract to allow him to take up a two-year deal with English Super League outfit Huddersfield.

November 29: NRL club chairs and CEOs agree in principle to constitutional reform of the ARLC which would give clubs greater power to appoint and remove commissioners and also end the mandatory three-year stand down rule for club officials being appointed to the Commission.

Raiders centre Curtis Scott.
Raiders centre Curtis Scott. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Canberra announce the signing of Melbourne Storm centre Curtis Scott to a four-year contract.

Cronulla re-sign halfback Chad Townsend until the end of the 2023 season, while the Sydney Roosters extend the contract of Siosiua Taukeiaho until the end of 2022.

November 30: Former South Sydney prop Zane Musgrove is cleared by the NRL to resume training with the Wests Tigers after he was suspended indefinitely following an incident at the Coogee Bay Hotel in late 2018.

December 2019

December 1: Sydney Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell is reported to be considering a switch to rugby union after an approach was made to Rugby Australia by an advisor to determine the code’s interest in the star player.

Newly appointed ARLC chairman Peter V’landys effectively rules out a team from Perth re-entering the NRL by telling The Sunday Telegraph that the game should "forget wasting millions in rusted-on AFL states".

Cronulla sign former Parramatta hooker Cameron King to strengthen their squad for 2020 following the departure of Jayden Brailey.

Former Wests Tigers centre Tim Simona, deregistered in 2017 over a betting scandal, signs a one-year deal with French outfit Lezignan.

December 2: Former Melbourne halfback Brodie Croft arrives at Red Hill for his first day at training with the Brisbane Broncos after securing a three-year deal with the club.

December 3: The Sydney Morning Herald reports the Sydney Roosters have raised Latrell Mitchell’s name as a potential recruit to Toronto Wolfpack’s head of rugby, Brian Noble.

The Daily Telegraph claims recently retired South Sydney forward Sam Burgess has been offered a long-term administrative role with the club, worth $3.6 million over 10 years. The deal is contingent on him being officially medically retired from the game, meaning his contract value will not be included on the club’s salary cap. The decision on Burgess’s medical retirement is approved by the NRL on December 6.

Parramatta re-sign boom five-eighth Dylan Brown on a three-year $2.1 million contract.

Melbourne Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu signs a two-year deal to play for the Queensland Reds and the Wallabies from 2021.

December 4: St George Illawarra centre Zac Lomax agrees to a six-year deal with the Dragons worth around $3 million.

All of Zac Lomax's 2020 tries

Long-serving players Daly Cherry-Evans and Iosia Soliola are appointed to the RLPA board.

December 5: The Daily Telegraph reports nine NRL clubs have committed to a combined $252 million on the construction of Centres of Excellence.

Penrith announce the signing of Sydney Roosters prop Zane Tetevano to a two-year deal.

December 6: ARLC chairman Peter V’landys announces a series of rule changes to be introduced to the Telstra Premiership in 2020 including a captain’s challenge; introduction of a 20/40 kick; options for the attacking team to set a scrum 10m or 20m from sideline or centrefield; on-field time restrictions for trainers; replaying the previous play-the-ball in the event of play being irregularly affected; banning of tackling a player in mid-air from either the kicking or non-kicking team. Commissioners defer a decision on changing the premiership points model to reward teams beaten in golden point.

Parramatta re-sign centre Michael Jennings until the end of the 2021 season.

Brisbane confirm the re-signing of centre Kotoni Staggs through to the end of 2021.

December 8: The Sun Herald reports that the NRL has introduced a rule that will prevent players aged 20 or younger from playing in the NRL unless they complete one day of work or study per week. The rule is designed to kerb poor behaviour off the field.

Australia coach Mal Meninga floats the radical idea of extending games to 90 minutes to generate millions of extra dollars in broadcast revenue for the code.

December 10: Sydney Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell meets with coach Trent Robinson and chairman Nick Politis where he is told he has no long-term future at the club. Mitchell is told the Roosters would grant him an early release to join Wests Tigers but he could remain at the club in 2020 if he is unable to secure another deal.

Manly prop Martin Taupau re-signs with the club for a further two seasons.

Gold Coast chairman Dennis Watt says the club will refuse to grant an early release to prop Jai Arrow if he signs with South Sydney for 2021.

December 13: The NRL releases third-party payment figures for all 16 NRL clubs, revealing an imbalance of almost $800,000 between the No 1 ranked team, Melbourne ($809,998 in 2019) and the last-placed North Queensland Cowboys ($15,667). Back-to-back premiers, the Sydney Roosters come in 11th with payments of $68,966, however the figures do not include payments to players from "whole-of-game" sponsors including Channel 9, Fox Sports, Telstra and KFC.

December 17: The Daily Telegraph reports that a US investor has proposed the staging of a Test between Pacific rivals Tonga and Samoa at Utah’s Rio Tinto Stadium in 2020.

St George Illawarra sign former Parramatta and Manly centre Brayden Wiliame.

December 18: The cost of the demolition and rebuild of the Sydney Football Stadium has blown out by almost $100 million, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph.

Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker.
Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

South Sydney re-sign five-eighth Cody Walker to a two-year deal worth a reported $1.3 million.

The Newcastle Knights extend the contract of the club’s player of the year, Mitch Barnett, until the end of 2023.

The NRL announces a range of sanctions against player managers Gavin Orr, Isaac Moses and Mario Tartak following months of investigations by the NRL Integrity Unit. Orr has his registration cancelled for allegedly aiding breaches of the salary cap rules at Parramatta while Moses and Tartak are issued with breach notices over unrelated issues.

Brian Canavan announces his decision to resign as Newcastle’s director of football.

December 19: The NRL clears Brisbane forward David Fifita to start the 2020 season with the Broncos after a six-week investigation into an incident in Bali in which he was jailed for three days. NRL boss Todd Greenberg says a lack of evidence contributed to the decision.

Coach Brad Fittler and members of the NSW Origin team offer support to victims of the bushfire crisis on the NSW mid-North Coast.

The Gold Coast sign highly regarded Melbourne forward Tino Fa'asuamaleaui to a three-year contract from 2021, worth an estimated $2 million.

The best of Tino Fa'asuamaleaui's breakout 2020 season

December 20: Melbourne agree to release winger Josh Addo-Carr at the end of the 2020 season on compassionate grounds to allow him to return to Sydney. The Storm’s release is conditional upon the club obtaining recompense through the signing of a player of equal value, a transfer fee or salary cap relief.

The Newcastle Knights attend a training camp in Tamworth where they listen to first-hand accounts of drought-affected farmers before dividing into small groups and spending a day labouring on farms throughout the New England region.

Canterbury extend the contract of captain Josh Jackson until the end of the 2023 season.

December 24: Gold Coast and Queensland prop Jai Arrow agrees to join South Sydney in 2021 on a four-year deal worth a reported $3.2 million.

The Warriors commit to help in the rebuilding of the northern NSW town of Tenterfield, devastated by drought and bushfires.

December 29: The Bulldogs are rocked by the death of 19-year-old second-row prospect Ziggie Vincent, who took his own life at Batemans Bay. Vincent had trialled with the Bulldogs’ Jersey Flegg side and was mentored by Anthony Mundine.

December 30: The NSW Government confirms the rebuild of the Sydney Football Stadium will not include the multi-mode LED curtain which had been considered a priority for principal tenants the Sydney Roosters, Sydney FC and the New South Wales rugby union. Acting Sports Minister Geoff Lee says the revised $828 million price tag for the new stadium was the “final cost”.

Aspiring Sydney Roosters player Daniel Casa drowns at a popular swimming spot at Lake Parramatta. The 16-year-old was a member of the Wentworthville United junior club and had been selected to play in the Roosters’ Harold Matthews Cup squad.

January 2020 

January 2: Legendary Hall of Fame forward Ron Coote loses his home of 35 years as bushfires rage through Lake Conjola on the NSW South Coast.

January 5: The Sydney Roosters release a media statement stating that centre Latrell Mitchell has been granted indefinite leave from training in order to sort out his playing future.

January 7: Cronulla CEO Richard Munro quits his post less than a year after replacing Barry Russell in the role.

St George Illawarra sign former Penrith and South Sydney utility Tyrell Fuimaono to a two-year contract.

January 8: The NRL announces it will dedicate the opening round of the 2020 season to raise funds for those affected by devastating bushfires that killed 20 and caused widespread destruction across NSW and Victoria over several months.

Tamou's personal tale amid bushfire tragedy

January 9: The Canberra Raiders shift their pre-season training program to the Sunshine Coast for 10 days to avoid hazardous pollution levels caused by bushfires. "The air quality was so bad our doctor, who is also the New Zealand doctor, Greg McLeod, said there was no way we could have trained outside in Canberra," said Raiders CEO Don Furner. The exercise costs the Raiders $85,000.

January 10: Former World Cup winger Brian James is killed in an accident on his family property at Capertee in the central west of NSW, at the age of 76.

January 12: Kiwi international Te Maire Martin announces his immediate retirement after doctors are unable to clear him to resume playing.

January 13: The long running saga over Latrell Mitchell’s playing future is finally decided when he signs a two-year deal with South Sydney, reported to be worth $1.4 million. Coach Wayne Bennett compares Mitchell’s recruitment to the signing of Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess. “It’s probably as big as when they [the Rabbitohs] signed Sam Burgess and Greg Inglis nearly a decade ago,” he said.

Latrell Mitchell joins South Sydney Rabbitohs

Former NRL prop Mose Masoe undergoes surgery after suffering a serious spinal injury during a trial for Super League club Hull Kingston Rovers at Wakefield.

January 15: Former international Mark Harris loses his battle with cancer at the age of 72. Harris was a pivotal figure when the Roosters broke a 29-year premiership drought to win the 1974 grand final against Canterbury.

January 16: In one of his final public duties just days after announcing his decision to step away from public life with the Royal Family, Prince Harry conducts the draw for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup at Buckingham Palace. Australia are drawn alongside Fiji, Scotland and Italy in Group B.

January 17: The NRL announces a three-day festival of football to help in the recovery of bushfire-ravaged communities on the NSW South Coast. Penrith and Parramatta will feature in a trial at Bega on February 29.

The Sydney Roosters unveil former Sydney Swans player Nick Davis as a "marquee" addition to their squad for the NRL Nines in Perth in February. The 39-year-old played league as a junior before embarking on his career in the AFL.

Roosters gift former AFL player a Nines berth

January 20: Sydney Roosters centre Billy Smith suffers a major setback when he tears his ACL in a routine training drill. Smith, who was poised to take over from departed premiership winner Latrell Mitchell in the Roosters’ left centre position, tore the ACL in his opposite leg in 2018.

January 21: Newcastle release hooker Danny Levi from the final year of his contract to allow him to sign join the Sea Eagles.

The Gold Coast Titans agree to release prop Leilani Latu with a year of his contract remaining so he can take up a deal with Warrington.

January 22: Former Gold Coast centre Brenko Lee secures a one-year contract with the Melbourne Storm.

The Melbourne Storm confirm club legends Billy Slater and Cameron Smith will be cast in bronze with statues of the pair to be installed adjacent to AAMI Park.

January 23: The Cronulla Sharks announce the acquisition of Kareela Golf Club, a move that chairman Dino Mezzatesta says will transform the club into a “powerhouse”. The Sharks plan to hold all club functions at the new licensed premises while the two-year redevelopment of Cronulla Leagues Club takes place.

January 24: The Daily Telegraph reports that former Wallaby coach Michael Cheika has joined the coaching staff of the Sydney Roosters. Cheika was a former SG Ball Cup player for the club.

The Broncos announce Kiwi international Alex Glenn as captain for 2020.

Glenn to captain Broncos in 2020

Canterbury call for a revamp of the NRL’s policy of salary cap relief for clubs who lose players to injury at representative level after being granted a maximum $350,000 dispensation following the loss of five-eighth Kieran Foran for the bulk of the 2020 season with a shoulder injury. The Bulldogs claim the maximum figure is inadequate for Foran, who earns $1.2 million per year.

January 25: Parramatta end Wests Tigers’ hopes of snaring rising front-rower Stefano Utoikamanu ahead of his three-year deal in 2021, by upgrading him to the club’s 30-man roster for 2020.

January 26: The Sunday Telegraph reports that Cronulla international Josh Dugan has knocked back an offer from Super League club Catalans to remain with the Sharks.

January 27: Wests Tigers confirm the signing of Canberra grand final centre Joey Leilua on a three-year deal. The 28-year-old Samoan international will team up with younger brother Luciano for the first time at club level.

January 28: The NSWRL announces its teams will be permitted to carry an 18th player as a specialised concussion substitute. The NSWRL also introduces a policy for all players ruled out of matches with concussion to stand down for a mandatory two-week period.

Fans voting for the Indigenous and Maori All Stars teams push overwhelmingly for Latrell Mitchell and Kalyn Ponga to play fullback for their respective teams in the February 22 clash on the Gold Coast.

January 29: Super League club the Catalans Dragons make the controversial decision to sign Rugby outcast Israel Folau for the 2020 season. Sacked by Rugby Australia over social media posts in which he said gays were destined for Hell, Folau’s attempts to return to the NRL were blocked by senior management. His deal with Catalans was reported to be worth around $400,000 for the season.

January 30: Star Cronulla rookie Bronson Xerri knocks back a five-year contract extension worth $2.5 million, instead indicating he will test his worth on the open market in November.

Doueihi relieved to be 'back home' at Tigers

Wests Tigers announce the signing of South Sydney utility back Adam Doueihi to a four-year deal worth over $2 million. The signing came after the Rabbitohs offered the Lebanon international an unconditional release.

January 31: Sydney Roosters premiership winner Nat Butcher extends his contract with the club until at least the end of 2022.

St Helens kick off their Super League title defence with a 48-8 victory over Salford in a grand final rematch. The match was Kristian Woolf’s first in charge as St Helens coach.

Gold Coast prop Ryan James suffers the recurrence of an ACL injury that ended his 2019 season. He vows that the injury will not end his career.

February 2020 

February 1: The Cronulla Sharks are rocked by news that rising front-rower Fine Kula has been diagnosed with brain cancer and has been forced to announce his immediate retirement. The 21-year-old New Zealand-born forward was close to earning a top-30 contract with the Sharks.

February 2: Sonny Bill Williams makes a low-key return to rugby league for the Toronto Wolfpack in their 28-10 loss to Castleford in the Canadian club’s Super League debut.

SBW returns to rugby league

The England Rugby League ends Wayne Bennett’s four-year term as national coach by appointing former Wigan mentor Shaun Wane to a two-year contract.

February 3: Parramatta signing Ryan Matterson said a "personal" situation led to his decision to quit Wests Tigers with two years left on his contract.

Ten members of Queensland’s State of Origin training squad are trapped in a lift for more than an hour at Brisbane’s Pullman Hotel.

February 4: Canterbury sign leading British prop Luke Thompson from St Helens to a three-year deal, starting in 2021.

February 5: Reports surface that Cronulla utility back Josh Dugan is battling a chronic knee problem which could jeopardise his playing future.

February 6: The Sydney Morning Herald reports the Brisbane Broncos have become the first NRL club to introduce a bequest program to encourage members to leave a financial gift for the club in their last will and testament.

The ARL Commission makes the decision to scrap the national anthem before the All Stars game on February 22 after the NRL’s indigenous advisory council and senior indigenous players had expressed opposition to the national song.

South Sydney premiership winner Kyle Turner announces his retirement at the age of 27 after failing to land a satisfactory contract for the 2020 season.

South Sydney extend the contract of prop Liam Knight until the end of the 2023 season.

Wests Tigers announce that Moses Mbye and Benji Marshall will share captaincy responsibilities in 2020.

February 7: The NRL announces that Penrith five-eighth Tyrone May will be permitted to return to the game in round five following his conviction for his role in a 2019 sex tape scandal.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg says Wests Tigers utility Josh Reynolds will be free to play in round one, despite a pending domestic violence charge, due to his complete cooperation with the game’s Integrity Unit. “He [Reynolds] proactively advised the Integrity Unit prior to the commencement of the police investigation,” Greenberg said.

February 9: Queensland coach Kevin Walters says he will work again with controversial "coach whisperer" Bradley Charles Stubbs in an effort to break the Blues’ two-year hold of the State of Origin trophy.

The Sun-Herald reports that Phil Gould is preparing to become a player agent.

Steve Gearin, who helped Canterbury win the 1980 grand final, is named a life member of the Bulldogs at the club’s AGM.

Gearin with a take for the ages

February 11: Cronulla refuse a request by veteran centre Josh Morris for an early release from his contract to enable him to join twin brother Brett at the Sydney Roosters.

South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett earmarks a change of role for Dally M Lock of the Year Cameron Murray in 2020, with the dynamic forward to transition from the middle of the field to become an edge attacking player. The move follows the retirement of experienced forwards Sam Burgess and John Sutton.

February 12: Clive Churchill Medal winner Jack Wighton re-signs with Canberra in a four-year deal reported to be worth $3 million.

Best of Jack Wighton

Cronulla utility back Josh Dugan says that MRI scans have shown he has chronic arthritis and inflammation of the bone and joint around his knee and that he is preparing to see two different surgeons to determine his immediate playing future.

February 14: The NRL Nines kicks off at Perth’s HBF Park but searing temperatures restrict the opening day attendance to 10,128. The Bulldogs produce an early upset by knocking over pre-tournament favourites Parramatta, while former Newcastle captain Kurt Gidley makes an impressive contribution to the Knights’ 34-0 demolition of the Warriors. Injuries to Broncos playmaker Anthony Milford (hamstring) and Rabbitohs forward Ethan Lowe (medial ligament) cause concern.

Match Highlights: Cowboys v Broncos

February 15: The Daily Telegraph reports that the NRL will become the first football code in Australia to open its judiciary hearings to the public with cases to be streamed live on nrl.com.

The NRL announces former Manly premiership-winning winger Michael Robertson as the new head of the NRL’s match review committee, replacing Michael Buettner, while Luke Patten and Anthony Quinn are appointed to the MRC.

The Cowboys claim their second Nines title after downing St George Illawarra 23-14 in the final at Perth’s HBF Oval and carry off a $250,000 winners’ cheque. The Dragons ride their luck to qualify for the decider after match officials in their quarter final against Penrith allow a try to rookie Cody Ramsey despite replays showing Ramsey clearly failed to ground the ball in the in-goal. The Dragons are the worst hit injury-wise, with forward Korbin Sims (arm), fullback Matt Dufty (fractured cheekbone) and hooker Cameron McInnes (medial ligament) all in doubt to play in round one of the premiership.

Match Highlights: Dragons v Cowboys

February 16: NRL club CEOs call for Players Association boss Ian Prendergast to step down from his position immediately after accepting a position with AFL club Carlton.

The Sunday Telegraph forecasts the NRL premiership will expand to 17 teams in 2023 with the introduction of a second Brisbane team.

February 17: Manly’s pack suffers a further setback following off-season surgery for Jake Trbojevic and Addin Fonua-Blake and the standing down of hooker Manase Fainu (charged with assault), when prop Taniela Paseka is diagnosed with a syndesmosis injury suffered at the NRL Nines in Perth.

The Maori All Stars team decides to not play the New Zealand national anthem before the All Stars game on the Gold Coast in support of the Indigenous team which did not want Advance Australia Fair to be played.

The Sydney Roosters train at Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium during a four-day training camp in the Spanish city. They are the first rugby league team allowed to train at the famous venue. The Roosters later stage an opposed training session against the Catalans Dragons. Meanwhile, Roosters coach Trent Robinson decides to rest captain Boyd Cordner from the World Club Challenge clash against St Helens to ease his workload across the season.

February 18: Warriors prop Bunty Afoa is ruled out for most of the season after tearing his ACL at training.

The NRL knocks back a bid by Wests Tigers and the Melbourne Storm to enter into an historic trade deal in which Storm hooker Harry Grant and Tigers centre Paul Momirovski swap clubs for the season because it would tip the Storm over the salary cap (by $15,000).

Cronulla centre Bronson Xerri says he is committed to seeing out the final two seasons of his deal with the club.

The Tongan National Rugby League is formally expelled from the International Rugby League, a move which is greeted positively by national coach Kristian Woolf and members of the Tongan team. "This opens the door for a completely new governance and a board who will support us the way we need to help us reach our potential," Woolf told The Sydney Morning Herald.

February 19: Brisbane prop Matt Lodge injures a knee at training, sparking fears of a season-ending ACL tear but Broncos medical staff indicate he could return after rehabilitation in two or three months.

Penrith fullback Dylan Edwards is ruled out for up to two months after suffering a serious ankle injury at training.

February 20: St George Illawarra strengthen their hooking stocks following the injury to Cameron McInnes by signing former South Sydney hooker Billy Brittain to a train and trial contract.

February 21: The Daily Telegraph reports that Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy has held talks with the Brisbane Bombers consortium about plans for a new NRL franchise in Brisbane in 2023.

South Sydney announce a coaching succession plan that will see assistant coach Jason Demetriou replace Wayne Bennett as head coach in 2022. General manager Shane Richardson confirms he will follow Bennett out the door with his contract at the club to expire at the end of 2021.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Melbourne Storm has changed its ownership structure, opening an opportunity for billionaire mining magnate David Argyle, owner of the Toronto Wolfpack, to take share.

Match Highlights: Indigenous All Stars v Maori All Stars

February 22: Indigenous All Stars winger Josh Addo-Carr invokes one of Australian sport’s most iconic images when he points to his bare chest in the lead-up to the clash against the Maori All Stars on the Gold Coast in the same way that indigenous AFL player Nicky Winmar did for St Kilda in 1993.

Storm utility Brandon Smith scores two second-half tries to inspire the Maori to a 30-16 victory. The match attracts a healthy crowd of 23,599 at Cbus Super Stadium and a combined audience of 634,000 on Channel Nine and Fox Sports.

The Indigenous Women’s team turn the tables on the Maori All Stars following their 2019 defeat by claiming a 10-4 victory.

Match Highlights: Indigenous All Stars v Maori Ferns

Cronulla recruit Cameron King faces another lengthy stint on the sidelines with injury after tearing his ACL in the Sharks’ 30-18 trial loss to Canterbury in Port Moresby.

Valentine Holmes makes his return to rugby league following his tilt at the NFL with the New York Jets as his North Queensland team down Brisbane 18-16 in a trial in Cairns.

The Sydney Roosters become the first team to win back-to-back World Club Challenges when they account for Super League premiers St Helens 20-12 at Totally Wicked Stadium.

Match Highlights: Saints v Roosters

February 24: Tributes flow for foundation Canberra Raiders coach Don Furner, who passes away at the age of 87. A former Australian representative, Furner coached the Kangaroos to an undefeated tour of Great Britain and France in 1986.

Canterbury coach Dean Pay says the NRL is not doing enough to help clubs with salary cap relief for players injured in representative games after losing prop Chris Smith to a season-ending ACL injury in the All Stars game. Smith’s injury follows the loss of playmaker Kieran Foran while playing a Test for New Zealand.

February 25: South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds is honoured with the club’s captaincy for the 2020 season.

February 26: The Sydney Morning Herald reports Newcastle have offered star fullback Kalyn Ponga a four-year deal worth $4.5 million that includes an option for him to fulfil his dream of representing the All Blacks at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

NSW Police drops domestic assault charges levelled against Wests Tigers player Josh Reynolds by former girlfriend Arabella Del Busso. Reynolds says he was close to walking away from the game as he battled to clear his name.

February 27: Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson wakes to discover that thieves have made off with his $150,000 Mercedes parked in the driveway of his Waverley home.

The Raiders prepare to be without second-rower John Bateman for the opening eight weeks of the season after the Englishman undergoes shoulder surgery.

February 28: The NRL announces a $30 million profit for 2019 at its annual general meeting.

The Courier Mail reports that Broncos forward David Fifita has knocked back a five-year offer from South Sydney worth $1.2 million per season.

Veteran coach Wayne Bennett throws his support behind the expansion of the NRL and says a second Brisbane club is the obvious way to go. "Redcliffe is the way to go," he said. "They have a ready-made club for the NRL."

Broncos forward Joe Ofahengaue is handed a two-game suspension by the NRL’s Integrity Unit following his driving offence in Brisbane in early February. Ofahengaue pleaded guilty to being in charge of a vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of 0.136.

Gold Coast coach Justin Holbrook appoints veteran forward Kevin Proctor captain for the 2020 season.

February 29: A sold out crowd at Bega Recreation Ground watches Penrith and Parramatta battle out a 22-all draw in a trial match that doubled as a relief effort for the bushfires which devastated the region in early January. Reports claim the staging of the match was worth $5 million to the hard-hit local economy.

Match Highlights: Panthers v Eels

With boom recruit Latrell Mitchell playing his first game for the club, South Sydney extend their winning record against St George Illawarra in the annual Charity Shield clash with a 26-12 victory in Mudgee. It is the Rabbitohs’ sixth consecutive Charity Shield victory.