NRL: What to watch when 2020 season restarts
Watch all eight matches from Round 3 of the NRL season live on Sky Sports from Thursday to Sunday
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 28/05/20 10:35am
After over two months suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NRL returns to action on Thursday morning UK time.
The reformatted 2020 season begins with Brisbane Broncos taking on Parramatta Eels, live on Sky Sports at 10.50am, with the remaining seven Round 3 matches being broadcast over the weekend as well.
Here, we run down what to keep an eye out for when the competition resumes this week...
How the season will look
The 2020 NRL season will now run for 20 rounds - two of those having already been played prior to the suspension - with the play-offs commencing on October 2 and the Grand Final taking place at the Sydney Cricket Ground on October 26.
Matches will be played behind closed doors until further notice and are confined to six venues in Australia until Round 9, with the New Zealand Warriors based in Gosford and playing 'home' matches at Central Coast Stadium.
The fixture list has been redrawn too, with all 16 sides playing 10 teams once, five of them twice and the emphasis being on rivalry matches.
That may well play into the hands of Cronulla Sharks, with the 2016 premiers avoiding having to play any of last year's play-off qualifiers twice in the remaining matches.
By contrast, reigning back-to-back champions Sydney Roosters - who return against rivals South Sydney Rabbitohs on Friday - and last year's minor premiers Melbourne Storm have arguably the toughest draw.
They will both have to play home and away games against four of last season's finalists, including each other. Meanwhile, the Storm restart against last year's beaten Grand Finalists, Canberra Raiders, on Saturday.
New rules being trialled
Among the changes the NRL is making for the return to action is there will be just one on-field referee controlling the match rather than the two which have been used since the 2009 season.
But without the extra official to police the ruck area, a change to the playing rules has been implemented which will see the referee restart the tackle count rather than award a penalty for any ruck infringements, although a penalty can be awarded for continued offences.
The six-again rule was trialled in the 2012 All Stars game and Cronulla head coach John Morris is among those who have been studying the video of that match.
"I think for the game there was 3-2 penalty count in total, but I think there was 11 instances where six-again was ruled," Morris told NRL.com.
"Some of those led to tries and multiple back-to-back sets of six so we've tried to get it into our training as best we can."
Teams to watch
Given only two rounds of matches were played prior to the 2020 campaign being suspended, it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from the opening games.
But of the six teams which remain unbeaten after those games, early leaders Parramatta and second-placed Newcastle Knights both produced eye-catching results in the first two weeks.
After battling to an 8-2 win over Canterbury Bulldogs in the first match of the year, Parramatta then put Gold Coast Titans to the sword with a 46-6 triumph.
Meanwhile, the Knights kept the Warriors scoreless with a 20-0 win in Round 1 and follow that up with a 42-24 win away to Wests Tigers, helped in no small part by leading point-scorer Kayln Ponga.
A look at the stats sees the Knights have shown some promising signs early on, scoring the most tries (11), the most points (62) and having the highest set completion rate of 83 per cent so far.
At the other end of the table, all eyes will be on whether the Roosters can get their season up and running after narrow losses to Penrith and Manly in their opening two games.
The NRL's Brit-pack
Canberra's English contingent gained another member in 2020 with George Williams making the move from Wigan Warriors to join John Bateman, Josh Hodgson, Ryan Sutton and Elliott Whitehead in the Australian capital.
Williams featured in both of the Raiders' opening games alongside Jack Wighton in the halves and drew praise from none other than modern-day Australian great Cooper Cronk, who retired at the end of last season.
"I had question marks how he'd adapt," Cronk told Foxsports. "He'd played for England, and he was a real X-factor type player, real instinct.
"He has a really good short kicking game and a beautiful running game that could get him out of trouble."
Over at South Sydney, Tom Burgess is the last player flying the English flag there following elder brother Sam's retirement and twin sibling George joining Wigan in the off-season.
He will be leading from the front when Souths take on the Roosters this weekend, while James Graham and his St George team-mates go looking for their first win of the season against the Warriors.
Holbrook's Titan-ic task
Another man with a Super League connection who many on these shores will be keeping an eye of the progress of is Justin Holbrook, who took over as head coach of perennial strugglers Gold Coast for the 2020 season.
Holbrook, who guided St Helens to both the League Leaders' Shield and Grand Final in 2019 to conclude an impressive two-and-a-half-years in charge, has seen his new side suffer defeats in his first two games in charge.
The Titans have several areas to improve in, currently leading the NRL in most ineffective tackles made and the most penalties conceded so far. However, Holbrook is confident his team, who face North Queensland Cowboys this week, have put the enforced break to good use after those two losses.
"Clearly, we were not good enough," Holbrook told NRL.com. "I think in game one we were probably only poor for the first 15 minutes of the game and then Round 2, although we competed hard for large periods, we just had no energy and didn't have any ball.
"But no excuse, it wasn't good enough and we've had a good, long chance to reflect on that and improve."
NRL Round 3 Sky Sports schedule
All games live on Sky Sports Main Event, Sky Sports Arena and Sky Sports Mix.
Brisbane Broncos vs Parrmatta Eels (10.50am)
North Queensland Cowboys vs Gold Coast Titans (9am)
Sydney Roosters vs South Sydney Rabbitohs (10.55am)
New Zealand Warriors vs St George Illawarra Dragons (6am)
Cronulla Sharks vs Wests Tigers (8.30am)
Melbourne Storm vs Canberra Raiders (10.35am)
Penrith Panthers vs Newcastle Knights (7.05am)
Manly Sea Eagles vs Canterbury Bulldogs (9.30am).