Perth, United Kingdom,
Youngster Bradman Best led a thrilling comeback by the Newcastle Knights to snatch a draw against the Penrith Panthers Sunday, as Australia’s National Rugby League’s coronavirus comeback gathers steam.
The stalled season restarted on Thursday after a 67-day COVID-19 shutdown when Parramatta Eels beat the Brisbane Broncos 34-6 at Queensland’s Suncorp Stadium.
Seven subsequent matches were played in five venues, with cardboard spectators dotting the stands and canned cheering broadcast into living rooms, signalling sporting Australia’s emergence from the health pandemic.
The NRL is the first professional sporting league to resume in the English-speaking world, and is making the most of its head start in Australia’s competitive sports market to attract record television ratings.
Sports-starved fans relished an epic comeback from injury-hit Knights against the Panthers in the Round 3, 14-all draw at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney.
The Knights suffered a major blow in the early minutes when star halfback Mitchell Pearce left the field bloodied after suffering a knock to the head attempting a tackle.
An ankle injury to hooker Connor Watson further depleted the Knights and the Panthers pounced to take a 14-point lead. A gritty Knights fought back through dashing youngster Bradman Best, who scored two tries in a starring performance.
Ten minutes of extra time failed to resolve the deadlock in the first tie of the interrupted season. – Rule tweaks – In Sunday’s later match, Manly Sea Eagles thrashed winless Canterbury Bulldogs 32-6 at Central Coast Stadium in New South Wales.
Tom Trbojevic scored two tries in the opening 25 minutes as the Sea Eagles cruised to their second win of the season.
Unblemished Parramatta and Canberra Raiders are the early trendsetters in the 20-round abbreviated tournament.
The grand final is scheduled for October 25. Bullish Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys has seemingly defied the critics after the NRL overcame the tumult of a scandal-played shutdown.
But his proposal for a return of spectators by July 1 has been criticised by the Australian Medical Association.
The renowned physicality of the 13-man game comes as social distancing rules remain across Australia to curb the spread of the virus.
But players have had to accommodated new rule tweaks and strict health protocols, including medics taking their temperatures.
The ball was also wiped down with disinfectant every 10 minutes, and coaches were not allowed to prowl the sidelines.—APP