Penrith Panthers have made their best start to a season since 1997 after beating New Zealand Warriors 26-0 on Friday to go top of the NRL ladder.

The inexperienced half-back pairing of Matt Burton and Jarome Luai shone in the absence of the suspended Nathan Cleary to ensure the Panthers remain unbeaten after four rounds.

Burton touched down twice in the opening 22 minutes at Campbelltown Stadium, scooping up a loose ball following a high kick for his first try before profiting again after blocking Blake Green's kick.

Luai collected his own kick to add a third try and second-half scores from Josh Mansour and Billy Burns completed the rout.

While Penrith have enjoyed a fine start to the season that has included three wins and a draw, South Sydney Rabbitohs' disappointing 2020 continued as they were beaten 22-8 by Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park.

In the battle of the full-backs, Ryan Papenhuyzen's try put Melbourne on the board before Latrell Mitchell, playing his 100th NRL game, responded with a tremendous pass that enabled Alex Johnston to go in.

Suliasi Vunivalu restored the Storm's lead after brilliant work from Cameron Munster, though, and after Adam Reynolds and Cameron Smith traded penalties, Josh Addo-Carr collected Munster's kick to increase the home side's lead.

Justin Olam's try three minutes from time completed the scoring as the Bunnies, who remain without a victory in Melbourne in 16 attempts, slipped to a third straight loss.

Canberra Raiders returned to NRL action with a commanding 22-6 win over Melbourne Storm to maintain their 100 per cent record.

Last year's Grand Final losers got the better of the 2019 minor premiers, earning a third straight victory at the Storm's home ground.

George Williams pulled the strings in assisting tries for Nick Cotric and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, with the Raiders at full throttle following the two-month coronavirus-enforced hiatus. 

Jordan Rapana also got in on the act, with Joseph Tapine's last-gasp try the only score of the second half in Melbourne.

New Zealand Warriors set the bar high in an 18-0 defeat of St George-Illawarra Dragons.

The Warriors completed their first 44 sets in a stunning display, with Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Eliesa Katoa and Kodi Nikorima touching down at Central Coast Stadium.

It is now three defeats from three for the Dragons, while this was a first win for the Warriors.

Cronulla Sharks are also winless from their opening three games, with Wests Tigers condemning them to a 28-16 loss.

Despite trailing 16-10 at the break, the Tigers ran in 18 unanswered points after the interval.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) hit out at the NRL's plan to reintroduce crowds in July, labelling the idea "absurd" and "dangerous" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020 NRL season will resume on Thursday and Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V'landys is hoping capped crowds can return to the league as soon as July.

As the NRL eyes fans returning to stadiums after the campaign was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 crisis, Melbourne Storm chairman Matt Tripp also revealed the club are planning for a restricted number of supporters to watch games at AAMI Park in Melbourne.

But the AMA took aim at the NRL, president Tony Bartone saying in a statement: "Put bluntly, this absurd and dangerous idea belongs in the sin bin.

"The NRL should be satisfied that it has its competition back in action, but it is unfair and unwise to put the health of the game's fans at risk. They must first monitor the health and safety of the players and officials who will be involved in the thick of the on-field action.

"Australians have done exceptionally well in flattening the COVID-19 curve, and we are not too far away from relaxing more restrictions.

"Now is not the time for sporting codes to be considering having crowds at games. They must wait until the medical experts advise that it is absolutely safe to do so – and that will not be as early as July.

"The AFL and other sporting codes are adopting the right approach, which is to wait for the expert medical advice before allowing crowds back to watch games.

"We have to be consistent in our public health messaging. Decisions on the safety of holding mass gatherings should be made by medical experts in consultation with the National Cabinet, not by rugby league administrators.

"Of course, we all want to see sport return with fans in the stands barracking for their teams. We also want to see theatre, dance, live music, cinemas, and other entertainments open to the public.

"But the public health must come first. Getting beyond the COVID-19 pandemic is bigger than rugby league - it is about the safety of all Australians."

Melbourne Storm chairman Matt Tripp said the club are keen to be a "test case" for crowds to return to the NRL amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020 NRL season will resume on Thursday and Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V'landys is hoping capped crowds can return to the league as soon as July.

As the NRL eyes fans returning to stadiums after the campaign was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 crisis, Tripp revealed the Storm are planning for a restricted number of supporters to watch games at AAMI Park in Melbourne.

"We are piecing together a scenario where even if we start with 1,000 people and build to 2,000, 3,000 in every fifth seat, there are plans in place at the moment or plans that we are working through to try and get people to AAMI Park, to create a safe environment for bigger and better things for all codes, not just the NRL," Tripp told RSN's Breakfast Club on Monday.

"We would happily be the test case, it's a wonderful facility to get people in and out of.

"There are measures that we can put in place to ensure the safety of patrons when they're at the game so I can't see why, in line with Peter V'landys' comments on July 1 that we can't get the ball rolling at AAMI."

The Storm were among six teams to have won their opening two games before the NRL was suspended due to coronavirus.

Craig Bellamy's Storm will restart their season against Canberra Raiders behind closed doors in Melbourne on Saturday.

"It would be wonderful if we can get people back to games this year," Tripp added.

Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V'landys feels the NRL should not have stopped as the league prepares to return following the coronavirus outbreak.

Brisbane Broncos and Parramatta Eels will restart the 2020 season behind closed doors on May 28 after the competition was postponed through two rounds on March 23 due to COVID-19.

Coronavirus has wreaked havoc across the world, bringing sport to a standstill, but Australia has managed to control the spread.

And V'landys claims Australia's premier rugby league competition should have continued amid the crisis.

"Racing has proven that you can continue on and if I had my time again, quite frankly, we wouldn't have stopped the rugby league," V'landys told News Corp.

"I don't think we were any risk playing on. If we had implemented the biosecurity measures we have in place now … there was really zero risk to the players or the community.

"There were the challenges in relation to the closure of the borders, but I think we could have got around all that. If there is one regret, maybe we acted too quickly. Maybe we should have waited another week to see the infection rates."

V'landys added: "We're not a very big risk. I think the governments would let us see it through now if there was a second wave, especially with the very harsh biosecurity measures we have implemented.

"We've proven it in racing and not only in NSW but right around Australia. If you have proper biosecurity measures, and participants do the right thing and abide by them, the risk is minimal."

State of Origin will be played in November as the NRL released its full revised draw on Thursday.

The NRL is set to resume its season next week amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the marquee series between Queensland and New South Wales moved.

Origin will be played on November 4, 11 and 18, with venues yet to be finalised, it was announced on Thursday.

"The changes to the schedule this year have allowed Origin to be played after the grand final – which is a first for the game, 40 years after the birth of the country's biggest sporting rivalry," NRL interim chief executive Andrew Abdo said in a statement.

The NRL Grand Final is set to be held on October 25, with the season already reduced to a 20-round schedule.

The season restarts on May 28, when Brisbane Broncos will host Parramatta Eels.

 

Best round three Opta facts:

- Broncos v Eels: Parramatta have won four of their past six games against Brisbane.
- Cowboys v Titans: North Queensland are on a nine-match winning streak against Gold Coast.
- Roosters v Rabbitohs: South Sydney's Campbell Graham has crossed for a try in each of his past three NRL games.
- Warriors v Dragons: New Zealand have lost five of their past six NRL games played in Australia, with the defeats coming by an average margin of 20 points.
- Sharks v Tigers: Wests have lost their past six games against Cronulla.
- Storm v Raiders: These two teams are the only sides yet to concede a try in the first half of a game this season.
- Panthers v Knights: Penrith have won nine of their 12 games without Nathan Cleary, who is suspended, since his debut.
- Sea Eagles v Bulldogs: Canterbury have made 30 errors across their opening two NRL games of the season.

State of Origin will be played in November as the NRL released its full revised draw on Thursday.

The NRL is set to resume its season next week amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the marquee series between Queensland and New South Wales moved.

Origin will be played on November 4, 11 and 18, with venues yet to be finalised, it was announced on Thursday.

"The changes to the schedule this year have allowed Origin to be played after the grand final – which is a first for the game, 40 years after the birth of the country's biggest sporting rivalry," NRL interim chief executive Andrew Abdo said in a statement.

The NRL Grand Final is set to be held on October 25, with the season already reduced to a 20-round schedule.

The season restarts on May 28, when Brisbane Broncos will host Parramatta Eels.

 

Best round three Opta facts:

- Broncos v Eels: Parramatta have won four of their past six games against Brisbane.
- Cowboys v Titans: North Queensland are on a nine-match winning streak against Gold Coast.
- Roosters v Rabbitohs: South Sydney's Campbell Graham has crossed for a try in each of his past three NRL games.
- Warriors v Dragons: New Zealand have lost five of their past six NRL games played in Australia, with the defeats coming by an average margin of 20 points.
- Sharks v Tigers: Wests have lost their past six games against Cronulla.
- Storm v Raiders: These two teams are the only sides yet to concede a try in the first half of a game this season.
- Panthers v Knights: Penrith have won nine of their 12 games without Nathan Cleary, who is suspended, since his debut.
- Sea Eagles v Bulldogs: Canterbury have made 30 errors across their opening two NRL games of the season.

The NRL has announced the six venues that will stage fixtures when the 2020 season resumes at the end of May.

Bankwest Stadium, Campbelltown Stadium and Central Coast Stadium will host fixtures, as well as Suncorp Stadium, Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville and AAMI Park.

The locations have been chosen to host games until at least the end of round nine as the competition prepares to return to action, starting with Brisbane Broncos against Parramatta Eels on May 28.

Action was suspended after two rounds due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The competition will begin with a consolidated approach to venues," acting NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said.

"Each venue requires customised infrastructure to meet our strict biosecurity requirements. We've adopted a phased approach for venues should restrictions be eased in the future.

"We've chosen three consolidated venues for clubs in and around Sydney to ensure there are no double headers at venues and in different parts of the region to meet the geographical challenges we face."

The Eels will be sharing Bankwest Stadium with Canterbury Bulldogs, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Cronulla Sharks and Sydney Roosters.

Campbelltown is the location for St George Illawarra Dragons, Wests Tigers, Penrith Panthers and Canberra Raiders, while Newcastle Knights and Manly Sea Eagles will play out of Central Coast Stadium, along with the Gosford-based New Zealand Warriors.

Suncorp Stadium will house the Broncos as per usual, as well as Gold Coast Titans. As for North Queensland Cowboys and Melbourne Storm, they will be in the familiar surroundings of Queensland Country Bank Stadium and AAMI Park respectively.

The draw for the remainder of the season will be revealed on Thursday, though home venues will only be allocated until round nine.

Melbourne Storm head coach Craig Bellamy insisted the winners of the coronavirus-hit 2020 competition will be worthy champions.

May 28 is set to see the return of the competition, which was postponed through two rounds on March 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The season will be reduced to 20 rounds following the coronavirus outbreak, but Bellamy said there should be no questions over the Grand Final winners.

"I don't think so, at all. That's just my opinion and [it] doesn't make other people wrong if they think differently," Bellamy told NRL.com.

"We are going ahead with a competition – it will be there for every club for quite a few months now no matter how it's made up."

The Storm were among six teams to have won their opening two games before the league's postponement and Bellamy added: "It's not as if we've only had two rounds and then we're having finals.

"We get 20 games and that's a lot compared with other football codes. The NFL has just 16 games.

"To me, it's still a viable competition. So it doesn't matter how it's made up, although it's certainly going to be different without crowds.

"But at the end of the day, it is still a thorough enough competition and in my opinion there doesn't need to be an asterisk against it at all."

 

The NRL released the fixtures for rounds three and four ahead of the 2020 season restart amid the coronavirus pandemic.

May 28 is set to see the return of the competition, which was postponed through two rounds on March 23 due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Brisbane Broncos and Parramatta Eels will kick-off the league's return on May 28, behind closed doors.

Venues for the third and fourth rounds are still be confirmed, while acting NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said the full season schedule will be released next week.

"After a period of uncertainty and unprecedented co-operation by a wide range of stakeholders, we are proud and excited to announce rounds three and four of the Telstra NRL Premiership," Abdo.

"These rounds provide our fans and partners with on-field rivalry and blockbuster entertainment. Combined with the proposed rule changes, the 2020 season will be faster and more unpredictable than ever before."

The Eels, Broncos, Newcastle Knights, Canberra Raiders, Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers were the only teams to have won their opening two games before the NRL's postponement.

 

Round Three:

Brisbane Broncos v Parramatta Eels (May 28)
North Queensland Cowboys v Gold Coast Titans (May 29)
Sydney Roosters v South Sydney Rabbitohs (May 29)
New Zealand Warriors v St George Illawarra Dragons (May 30)
Cronulla Sharks v Wests Tigers (May 30)
Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders  (May 30)
Penrith Panthers v Newcastle Knights (May 31)
Manly Sea Eagles v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (May 31)

Round Four:

Brisbane Broncos v Sydney Roosters (June 4)
Penrith Panthers v New Zealand Warriors (June 5)
Melbourne Storm v South Sydney Rabbitohs (June 5)
Parramatta Eels v Manly Sea Eagles (June 6)
North Queensland Cowboys v Cronulla Sharks (June 6)
Canberra Raiders v Newcastle Knights (June 7)
Gold Coast Titans v Wests Tigers (June 7)
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v St George Illawarra Dragons (June 8)

Melbourne Storm will return to training at AAMI Park on Thursday after a decision from the Victorian government amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Storm had relocated to Albury, New South Wales, for training ahead of the NRL season restarting on May 28.

However, Victoria announced on Monday it was easing restrictions in its state, including loosening rules around professional sport.

"We have agreed to a set of arrangements that will allow training for AFL, for rugby league, for other professional sports to resume from just before midnight tomorrow night," Victorian premier Daniel Andrews told a news conference on Monday.

"Of course with that happening, once training is up and running again that paves the way for the AFL and other codes to make announcements.

"Training resuming paves the way for footy to be back and I think we all want that, provided it's safe, appropriate and can be done in a cautious way and I'm confident that it can be."

The Storm welcomed the decision and announced in a statement they would be back training at their home ground, AAMI Park, on Thursday.

Melbourne had won their opening two games of the NRL season to sit fourth on the ladder when the season was suspended in March due to COVID-19.

Melbourne Storm second-rower Felise Kaufusi has decided to extend his contract with the NRL club through next season.

Kaufusi, 27, opted to take up the option to extend his deal, the club announced on Wednesday.

An Australia and Queensland representative, Kaufusi has been with the Storm since 2015.

The former Tonga international helped Storm win the 2017 NRL Grand Final.

The Storm are preparing for the coronavirus-hit season to restart on May 28, having won their opening two games of the campaign.

Melbourne Storm chief executive Dave Donaghy said some councillors may have been "ill-informed" and "short-sighted" after a shock decision to ban the NRL side from using their preferred ground in Albury.

The Storm announced on Monday that they were relocating to the New South Wales border town of Albury, with the coronavirus-hit NRL season set to return on May 28.

COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria had forced the Storm to travel outside of the state after the 2020 campaign was postponed through just two rounds on March 23.

But the Storm's plans hit a hurdle following Tuesday's extraordinary meeting in Albury, preventing Melbourne from using the council-managed facility, and Donaghy responded to the rejection.

"I was there on Monday or Tuesday and the reception I received from the locals, whether it was Steve at the quality hotel resort where the team is being based at or the couple of young ladies that own the gym, it’s been nothing but everyone receiving us with open arms," Donaghy told SEN on Wednesday as the Storm officially returned to training.

"I became aware a couple of months ago that there was some agitation from some of the councillors. I wasn't quite sure. Perhaps they were ill-informed around some of our protocols at that point.

"This isn't a joke, we certainly understand the health issues we're all facing. We're certainly not taking it as a joke. If anyone has seen our social media channels and website, you actually see the protocols and process our players go through. They went through that after arriving in camp last night. Very thorough.

"Affectively, they will be in Albury but for the first time ever, we will be asking people to stay from us. They won't be mingling with the public. They'll be heading in from their hotel to the gym and field. Albury Tigers will be where we train, it's not a council-run facility."

"From our end, we reached out in early April, April 11 I believe. It's early May now. The conversation has been going on for a while," he added.

"Whether they were just ill-informed around protocols or just a short-sighted opportunistic view by a few that if you're looking long term, we can't stay in lockdown forever. At some point we're all going to come out of this in a safe, healthy way.

"We are following all the rules, whether it is the New South Wales or federal government… We're very disappointed around this as anyone. But the Albury Tigers have stepped up. The field the guys will be on, it's arguably a better surface. I'm told its one of the best surfaces in NSW. It's an AFL field, but it's marked out like a rugby league field. The posts are up. So, they will be ready to go and it will feel like home."

"It's a week to week proposition," Donaghy continued. "We want to get back to Melbourne. We want to get back to our own homes and train at AAMI Park."

NRL players have accepted a pay cut and will all be back in training on Wednesday after the league vowed it would be "full steam ahead" to a May 28 resumption.

Just two rounds of the 2020 season were completed before the coronavirus pandemic forced the NRL to halt in March.

Now the competition is set to return behind closed doors, with Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V'landys forecasting "all eyes" would be on the NRL.

Players have agreed a pay package that will see them guaranteed 80 per cent of contracted payments, the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) said.

The New Zealand Warriors trained on Tuesday and all other sides will now follow, initially in small groups before working as normal from next week.

V'landys said in an NRL statement that the league would closely protect its players, vowing: "Our players will be safer in the rugby league environment than they would be in the regular community."

With games to be broadcast from the moment the league returns, V'landys believes rugby league will have an opportunity to sell itself.

He said: "It is full steam ahead for the resumption of the competition on May 28.

"All eyes will be on the NRL as the only live sport on television. There will never have been more interest in rugby league than on May 28.

"Rugby league is part of the social fabric of so many communities. In these difficult times it will provide a tonic for so many seeking a form of normality during a period where nothing is normal."

He thanked players for "making significant sacrifices", notably the New Zealand Warriors and Melbourne Storm players who have relocated to New South Wales to allow the league to start up again.

V'landys said: "The New Zealand Warriors and the Melbourne Storm have had to leave their homes and their families and on behalf of all rugby league fans we thank them for that and we thank all players who will be living with stronger restrictions than current government health orders."

RLPA chief executive Clint Newton said players were "excited" by the prospect of returning to action.

He added: "Like many in our community, players will have changed domestic arrangements and an added weight of responsibility with time away from family and reduced payments – but one thing that won't be impacted is their effort on the field and their commitment to the game and its fans."

NRL players have accepted a pay cut and will all be back in training on Wednesday after the league vowed it would be "full steam ahead" to a May 28 resumption.

Just two rounds of the 2020 season were completed before the coronavirus pandemic forced the NRL to halt in March.

Now the competition is set to return behind closed doors, with Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V'landys forecasting "all eyes" would be on the NRL.

Players have agreed a pay package that will see them guaranteed 80 per cent of contracted payments, the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) said.

The New Zealand Warriors trained on Tuesday and all other sides will now follow, initially in small groups before working as normal from next week.

V'landys said in an NRL statement that the league would closely protect its players, vowing: "Our players will be safer in the rugby league environment than they would be in the regular community."

With games to be broadcast from the moment the league returns, V'landys believes rugby league will have an opportunity to sell itself.

He said: "It is full steam ahead for the resumption of the competition on May 28.

"All eyes will be on the NRL as the only live sport on television. There will never have been more interest in rugby league than on May 28.

"Rugby league is part of the social fabric of so many communities. In these difficult times it will provide a tonic for so many seeking a form of normality during a period where nothing is normal."

He thanked players for "making significant sacrifices", notably the New Zealand Warriors and Melbourne Storm players who have relocated to New South Wales to allow the league to start up again.

V'landys said: "The New Zealand Warriors and the Melbourne Storm have had to leave their homes and their families and on behalf of all rugby league fans we thank them for that and we thank all players who will be living with stronger restrictions than current government health orders."

RLPA chief executive Clint Newton said players were "excited" by the prospect of returning to action.

He added: "Like many in our community, players will have changed domestic arrangements and an added weight of responsibility with time away from family and reduced payments – but one thing that won't be impacted is their effort on the field and their commitment to the game and its fans."

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