The NRL’s return from a 10-week coronavirus-induced shutdown made worldwide headlines on Thursday night as sport-starved fans tuned in across the globe.
After 67 days sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Parramatta extended their unbeaten start to the NRL season with a convincing win over Brisbane.
The Eels started a campaign with three wins in a row for the first time since 1993 as they romped to a 34-6 win at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday.
The result completed a successful return to action for the NRL, having been suspended by the coronavirus crisis since March 22.
Before the match, the NRL ran online adverts aimed at overseas viewers unfamiliar with the sport declaring “no helmets, no pads, no fear, no worries”.
So it wasn’t just Aussie fans overjoyed to see the footy back, with Americans also going nuts over the live sport.
With almost every sport across the United States suspended, a number of Americans discovered rugby league for the first time.
NFL reporter Cam Inman tweeted his delight to see some live football.
“Loved it. Athletes colliding into each other at full speed again,” he tweeted.
“Excellent ‘social distancing’ led to the superb try to put @TheParraEels ahead at halftime.
“I blissfully still don’t understand all the rules. (I streamed last 20 minutes, once awoken by our cat’s snoring at 3am).”
Loved it. Athletes colliding into each other at full speed again. Excellent “social distancing” led to the superb try to put @TheParraEels ahead at halftime.— Cam Inman (@CamInman) May 28, 2020
I blissfully still don’t understand all the rules. (I streamed last 20 minutes, once awoken by our cat’s snoring at 3 am)
American news service Associated Press covered the match.
“With the sound of skin slapping skin and an echoing oomph of air escaping lungs as players collided at pace, the National Rugby League led the charge for elite sports returning to action in Australia,” AP reported.
European newswires Reuters and AFP even took notice.
“While the match was played behind closed doors and under strict health protocols, there was no shying away in the tackle as players from both sides launched into bone-crunching hits,” AFP wrote.
“The fact that the match went ahead at all was a triumph for the NRL, which faced ridicule when it first announced plans to resume its season after the virus-enforced closure in late March.”
San Francisco website SF Gate also ran an article about the match, as did Japan Today.
Not to mention fans in the UK unable to watch the suspended Super League.
New virus protocols and on-field rules
Precautions to minimise the threat of infection included medics taking player temperatures, with orders to exclude anyone with the slightest hint of fever.
The ball was wiped down with disinfectant every 10 minutes, and coaches were not allowed to prowl the sidelines.
The new six-again rule for infringements in the ruck, crafted during the competition's hiatus, delivered instantly for the visitors.
On their second set of the night, the Eels received back-to-back six-again calls and used that to maximum advantage with Marata Niukore crashing over the fourth minute.
The new rule and the move back to a one-referee system made for a frenetic match played at a brutal pace, especially for players who have only been back training for three weeks.
Brodie Croft shook off a pre-game drama when he failed two temperature tests on his way into the stadium before passing a third to get the all-clear to take to the field to score a brilliant individual try in the 18th minute.
That was as good as it got for the Broncos, with Anthony Milford and Darius Boyd both bombing golden opportunities before master finisher Maika Sivo somehow touched down in the corner to ensure the Eels had a 12-6 halftime advantage.
Broncos captain Alex Glenn, making his first appearance of the season after a hamstring injury sidelined him earlier in the season, had to go to hospital at the break after suffering a bad cut to his leg in the first half.
Glenn's absence was felt in the second term as the Eels dominated, running in four unanswered tries through Michael Jennings, Clint Gutherson, Shaun Lane and Waqa Blake.
The resounding victory means after last year's 58-0 thrashing in the first weekend of the finals, the Eels have beaten the Broncos by an aggregate of 92-6 in their past two encounters.