Canterbury Bulldogs' ferocious start helped the NRL strugglers climb off the bottom of the table with a fine 26-16 victory over South Sydney Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium.

The Bulldogs let rip in the opening half hour on Thursday, surging into a 20-0 lead to leave their hosts stunned.

Jake Averillo's penalty got the Bulldogs up and running, with Tim Lafai going over soon after.

Matters were made more difficult for the hosts when Jaydn Su'A saw yellow for a high hit on Lachlan Lewis, which forced Canterbury's half-back out of the game.

The Bulldogs made their numerical advantage count – Reimis Smith and Raymond Faitala-Mariner going over in quick succession.

The Rabbitohs were in desperate need of a response, which came in the form of a try from Jaxson Paulo, who appeared to have been in touch before he grounded the ball, with Campbell Graham then further reducing the gap before half-time.

Alex Johnston went in and Adam Reynolds added the extras to move the Rabbitohs to within four points early in the second half, yet their comeback hopes were all but ended by Chris Smith's first NRL try.

Defeat leaves the Rabbitohs in sixth place, with their hopes of a home final in the balance, while Brisbane Broncos have dropped into last place with two games remaining.

New Zealand international Kevin Proctor has recommitted to the Gold Coast Titans for the 2021 NRL season.

Proctor, 31, will stretch his Titans career into a fifth campaign, having joined the club from Melbourne Storm in 2017.

A 22-time New Zealand international and veteran of 250 NRL games, the back-rower has re-signed through next season.

"Kevin has played some of the best football of his career this season and I look forward to that continuing next season," Titans coach Justin Holbrook said.

"It is great to have a local junior continue at our club and I know Kevin wants the club to be successful.

"He is excited to be part of that."

Proctor has made 10 appearances for the Titans this season, but Gold Coast are 12th in the NRL and out of finals contention with two games to play.

The Canberra Raiders have re-signed star forward Josh Papalii until at least the end of 2024.

Papalii, 28, is an Australia and Queensland representative and has played 215 NRL games for the Raiders.

Already contracted until the end of 2022, Papalii has re-signed through until 2024, with an option for 2025.

"I love this club and I love Canberra," said Papalii, a three-time winner of the Mal Meninga Medal as the Raiders' player of the year.

"This is my home now and my family and I are very happy to be remaining with the Raiders and in Canberra.

"I came here as a junior player, made my debut here and played my 200th NRL game here and there's no other club I want to play for."

Raiders chief executive Don Furner said Papalii was among the club's greatest ever players.

"There’s no doubt Josh has developed into one of the all-time greats of our club and he is now recognised among the game's elite superstars," he said.

"His commitment to the club and the city of Canberra is wonderful to see and we know we have a player who we can continue to be a big part of our club for years to come."

The Raiders are fifth in the NRL ahead of facing the New Zealand Warriors on Sunday, and they will play finals in 2020.

Toby Rudolf's barnstorming late try dramatically helped to seal an NRL Finals berth for Cronulla Sharks and ended New Zealand Warriors' own chances in a Sunday thriller.

The Warriors had confounded the critics to challenge for a top-eight finish this season, and converted tries from Jack Murchie and Adam Pompey had seen them into a 14-12 lead with seven minutes remaining.

But with the clock ticking down, Rudolf barrelled through the Warriors defence to end their resistance, and Ronaldo Mulitalo's score in the corner in the closing stages completed a 22-14 triumph.

Consequently, the eighth-placed Sharks – thrashed 38-10 by the Newcastle Knights last week – are six points clear of a trio of teams with only two regular-season matches remaining.

The Warriors had responded to tries from Sione Katoa and Mulitalo in the opening half-hour, with Chanel Harris-Tavita's accurate boot aiding their cause, but Cronulla ultimately found a way at the Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.

Melbourne Storm all but booked a crucial top-two finish as Cameron Munster celebrated his 26th birthday with two tries in a 36-20 triumph over the North Queensland Cowboys.

Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Tino Faasuamaleaui, Josh Addo-Carr and Jahrome Hughes also scored in a six-try showing as the Storm made it 11 straight wins over the Cowboys.

The Storm would have to lose each of their remaining two regular-season games to miss out on the top-two slot that would allow them to play two finals at Suncorp Stadium.

Daniel Tupou scored his 100th NRL try as Sydney Roosters ended Newcastle Knights' top-four hopes with a 42-12 victory at the SCG on Saturday.

Roosters wing Tupou's second of the game early in the second half saw him hit the milestone in his 171st appearance, helping his team move ahead of Parramatta Eels on points difference and into third.

Josh Morris, Tupou, Luke Keary, Joseph Manu and James Tedesco all crossed in a rampant first half for the hosts, who lost Boyd Cordner to a head injury after 26 minutes, though tries from Enari Tuala and Gehamat Shibasaki ensured the Knights were not completely out of the game.

The Roosters moved the ball magnificently for Tupou to touch down for the 100th time in the left corner three minutes after the restart, and Jake Friend's excellent pass preceded Keary completing his double in the 70th minute.

Brett Morris and Joseph Manu held up Lee to keep Newcastle, who were without full-back Kalyn Pogna, scoreless in the second half, with Sonny Bill Williams playing over half an hour after managing 14 minutes on his debut last week.

The Roosters' success meant Canberra Raiders remain two points adrift of the top four despite a big 37-8 win over St George Illawarra Dragons.

Jack Wighton touched down twice for the visitors at WIN Stadium, while Hudson Young, who missed last year's Grand Final due to an eight-game ban for eye gouging and suffered a serious knee injury in pre-season, scored a try and set one up for John Bateman.

Young's display enabled Josh Papalii to rest for the entire second half, with the only consolation for the Dragons being Cody Ramsey scoring with his first touch in NRL and adding a second before half-time.

Brisbane Broncos took the lead against Gold Coast Titans but ended up succumbing to a club-record ninth straight defeat.

Darius Boyd put the struggling Broncos ahead at Cbus Super Stadium but after Ash Taylor's line break initiated a length-of-the-field move that was finished off by Young Tonumaipea, the Titans held firm for an 18-6 triumph.

Liam Martin scored a memorable leaping effort as Penrith Panthers made a statement of intent by defeating potential Finals rivals Parramatta Eels 20-2 to rack up a 13th straight NRL win.

Table-topping Penrith led 6-2 at the end of a low-scoring first half at Panthers Stadium on Friday, with Josh Mansour diving over from Jarome Luai's pass at the siren.

But the Eels eventually caved under a barrage of attacks, having held up several efforts in the first half, with Martin athletically snaring the ball out of the air to touch down in the 56th minute.

Luai went over in the final stages as well to add gloss to the scoreline and provide the third-place Eels a reminder of the task they could potentially face come Finals time in October.

In Friday's other contest, Manly Sea Eagles triumphed 32-20 at rock-bottom Canterbury Bulldogs with Taniela Paseka, Curtis Sironen, Brad Parker, Jack Gosiewski, Morgan Harper and Martin Taupau all scoring in the six-try effort.

The win was soured slightly by late injuries to Cade Cust (ankle) and Addin Fonua-Blake (knee). The former is expected to miss the final two rounds, while the latter is doubtful to play against Gold Coast Titans next week.

South Sydney Rabbitohs limped to a slender 26-24 victory in Thursday's NRL clash with Wests Tigers after nearly blowing a 20-point first-half lead at Bankwest Stadium.

The visitors held a commanding advantage with half an hour played but had to hold on at the end of a game that saw three men sin binned in the second half.

Defeat for the Tigers ends their hopes of reaching the finals, while the Bunnies move into fifth and within two points of Sydney Roosters, who play Newcastle Knights on Saturday.

A dramatic contest only looked to be heading one way when the Rabbitohs, beaten 22-16 by Melbourne Storm last time out, racked up three quickfire tries.

Dane Gagai, Corey Allan and Campbell Graham crossed over in the space of 15 minutes, with Adam Reynolds converting all three to help give his side an early 20-0 lead.

The hosts produced a remarkable comeback against Manly Warringah Sea Eagles last week and were at it again when Luke Garner and Tommy Talau dotted down before the interval.

Alex Twal was sent to the sin bin eight minutes into the second half and tempers further flared two minutes later as Gagai chucked the ball at Luke Brooks' head.

A melee ensued and both men joined Twal in being issued yellows, with the Rabbitohs making the one-man advantage count as Graham raced behind for his second try.

But Brooks scored an impressive try after returning to the field to give the Tigers hope and Asu Kepaoa touched down three minutes later after being played in by Benji Marshall.

Just two points separated the sides for the closing 14 minutes but there was to be no further scoring as the Tigers came up just short.

North Queensland Cowboys' Valentine Holmes scored a golden point as his side edged out St George Illawarra Dragons 23-22 to all but end the visitors' NRL Finals hopes.

Having come into Saturday's clash on the back of a nine-game losing streak, the Cowboys lifted themselves two points clear of the foot of the table in dramatic fashion.

Francis Molo had put the hosts ahead in Townsville, but tries from Euan Aitken and Mikaele Ravalawa turned things around by half-time.

Jake Clifford and the Dragons' Jacob Host exchanged tries early in the second half, before Holmes and Kyle Feldt swung the momentum back in the Cowboys' favour.

Zac Lomax's penalty levelled things up, with Corey Norman then sending a drop-goal attempt wide in added time, setting the stage for Holmes to clinch the victory.

The defeat leaves the Dragons in 11th place, six points behind the top eight.

In Sunday's earlier clash, Chanel Harris-Tavita's fine individual display was not enough for New Zealand Warriors as they went down 24-18 to Parramatta Eels.

It was a gritty performance from the Eels, who responded well to a 38-0 defeat to South Syndey Rabbitohs last time out.

Harris-Tavita scored two tries and converted six points, yet a late penalty from Mitchell Moses ensured a six-point win for the third-placed Eels.

Sonny Bill Williams made a winning return for Sydney Roosters as they claimed an 18-6 NRL win over Canberra Raiders.

Williams signed a deal with the Roosters for the remainder of the 2020 season after Toronto Wolfpack pulled out of the Super League season in July because of financial constraints caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

A two-time World Cup winner in rugby union with the All Blacks, Williams was introduced off the bench in the 59th minute.

The Roosters were leading 12-6 at that point thanks to tries from James Tedesco and Daniel Tupou and the former doubled his tally two minutes after Williams' introduction.

Tedesco showed neat footwork and then kicked through for himself to touch down for a try that sealed a win to move reigning premiers the Roosters third in the NRL table.

Wests Tigers, Tedesco's former team, kept their finals hopes alive with a dramatic comeback against Manly Sea Eagles.

They trailed 20-12 at half-time but fought back to win 34-32 in a thrilling finish.

When Morgan Harper crossed for the Sea Eagles' sixth try Manly led 32-18 with 14 minutes remaining, only for Wests to score three tries in the final 12 minutes.

Adam Doueihi went over before David Nofoaluma completed a hat-trick that makes him the outright top try scorer in the division with 17 to put the Tigers within four points.

Doueihi then completed a remarkable turnaround when he plucked Luke Brooks' cross-field kick out of the air with under three minutes left.

There no final twist in the tale from Manly, meaning the Tigers trail eighth-placed Cronulla Sharks by four points with three games to play.

Elsewhere, Gold Coast Titans defeated bottom club Canterbury Bulldogs 18-14.

Melbourne Storm finished strongly to overpower the South Sydney Rabbitohs 22-16 in a high-quality NRL contest at ANZ Stadium.

With a little over 20 minutes of Friday's contest remaining, Storm trailed 16-10 before Tino Faasuamaleaui finished from close range after fine work from Cameron Smith.

Cameron Munster then showed great skill to go over and put Storm ahead for the first time in the match with 15 minutes remaining, a lead they would not relinquish.

The Bunnies had led by four points at the break with converted efforts from Campbell Graham and Cody Walker answered by Ryan Papenhuyzen and Justin Olam for Storm.

Adam Reynolds kicked eight points, but the Rabbitohs were unable to prevent second-placed Melbourne from reducing Penrith Panthers' lead at the summit to three points. 

In Friday's other contest, Chad Townsend was sent off and three other Cronulla Sharks players were put on report and such a lack of discipline proved costly in a 38-10 thumping at the hands of Newcastle Knights, for who Kalyn Ponga scored a hat-trick.

Townsend saw red for a shoulder charge on Ponga 12 minutes into the second half, while Wade Graham, Toby Rudolf and Braden Hamlin-Uele were cited for lifting tackles.

Starford To'a scored twice, while Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Josh King also dotted down in a resounding seven-try victory Newcastle, who hop ahead of the Bunnies into sixth.

Sonny Bill Williams is a "freak of nature" rated by former New Zealand coach Steve Hansen as the best athlete he has ever coached.

Cross-code star Williams is set to mark his return to Australian rugby league for the Sydney Roosters this weekend, having been left without a team play for after Toronto Wolfpack withdrew from the Super League.

The 35-year-old left the Roosters and rugby league in 2014 but will make a warmly welcomed comeback against the Canberra Raiders on Saturday after undergoing a coronavirus quarantine period.

Two-time rugby union World Cup-winner Williams is a man of many talents, having also had seven professional boxing matches, and for Hansen – who has coached some of union's all-time greats, including legendary All Black Richie McCaw – he is the pick of the bunch in terms of all-round athleticism. 

"The greatest rugby player I've coached was McCaw but Sonny would be the best athlete I've coached from a pure athlete sense," Hansen told the Sydney Daily Telegraph. 

"He's a freak of nature."

Hansen, who stepped down from the All Blacks after the 2019 World Cup, also praised Williams' influence on the younger generation.

"As he has got older, he has matured," added Hansen. "His training habits and his off-field habits are world-class now. 

"He will be a good role model for the young fellas in the club."

Ian Foster is now in charge of New Zealand and Hansen, who admits it will be difficult to watch the side play without being directly involved, expects him to do well.

"The All Blacks haven't had a game so I've been quite lucky to have the opportunity to get used to not coaching them without having to watch them," he said.

"I'm sure there will be a tug in the old heart when they finally get out onto the track.

"But Fossie will do a great job with them I'm sure, and I'm really excited for him to take the team to the next level."

North Queensland Cowboys have appointed New Zealand Warriors interim boss Todd Payten as their head coach on a three-year deal beginning in 2021.

Payten, 41, was previously at the Cowboys from 2015 to 2018, helping them to a maiden NRL premiership.

A veteran of 259 NRL games as a player, Payten has been at the helm of the Warriors on an interim basis since June and reportedly turned down the full-time job.

He will replace Paul Green at the Cowboys after he stepped down in July.

"I am honoured to be appointed head coach of the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys," Payten said.

"I'm excited for the opportunity which lies ahead for myself and my family. Returning to this club, town and region is something which makes us extremely happy.

"I see a huge amount of upside within the Cowboys organisation and it is my job to see that eventuate into results on the field.

"Developing the players within the club to be good footballers and good men along with playing a style of football our members and supporters can be proud of will be my main focus."

The Cowboys have endured a difficult 2020 season, winning just three of 16 games.

Cowboys chairman Lewis Ramsay backed Payten, saying: "We went through a thorough process and were thrilled with the large number of exceptional candidates who expressed interest in being the next head coach of our club.

"We are delighted to bring Todd back to North Queensland and believe he is the right choice to lead our club into an exciting new chapter.

"His strong leadership abilities, the importance he places on culture and communication and the confidence he has in continuing to develop our playing group were all major factors in choosing Todd as our next head coach."

Penrith Panthers recovered from a shaky start to comfortably see off Brisbane Broncos 25-12 for a 12th straight victory to move a step closer to being crowned NRL minor premiers.

The Broncos began life without head coach Anthony Seibold with a 58-12 loss against Sydney Roosters last week but made a promising start to Thursday's clash at Suncorp Stadium.

Kotoni Staggs was played through a gap to the outside of Stephen Crichton by Darius Boyd and stormed over for a ninth-minute try.

But the Panthers soon found their stride and were on level terms with 25 minutes played thanks to Josh Mansour, who profited from Jarome Luai's great work.

Nathan Cleary put the visitors in front with a penalty and then placed a perfect kick behind for Kurt Capewell to catch and ground just before half-time.

The Broncos, unbeaten since June, flexed their muscles a little more in the second half and further extended their lead when Luai pounced on another Cleary kick.

Jordan Riki charged up the field and around the outside of Dylan Edwards to reduce the arrears, but Brian To'o responded almost instantly by scrambling over in the corner at the opposite end.

The impressive Cleary sent over a drop goal late on to add further gloss to the scoreline as the leaders moved five points clear of Melbourne Storm, who face South Sydney Rabbitohs on Friday.

Andrew Abdo has been appointed as the permanent chief executive of the NRL.

Abdo took on the role on an interim basis in April, replacing Todd Greenberg amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He joined the NRL in 2013 and was previously chief commercial officer, but his permanent appointment as CEO was confirmed on Thursday.

"Andrew has done an outstanding job as interim CEO," Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V'landys said.

"The commission could not be happier with his work ethic and the way he has led the game through the pandemic. There's no better person to take rugby league in a new innovative direction."

V'landys added: "Andrew has one of the best commercial brains in Australian sport. He has been the one who has brought in the majority of our new non-broadcast revenues.

"Prior to the pandemic our revenues had increased by 15 per cent, year on year, for the past four years and that was down to Andrew and his team.

"Andrew's commercial and financial background is the perfect skillset for the game's needs moving forward. We are resetting our cost base and we need to make smart investments to set the game up for future generations.

"Andrew thinks outside the square and will look at ways to do things differently. Andrew also possesses a cool and calm temperament which is a vital asset with the many pressures of our great game."

Abdo was delighted to take on the role on a full-time basis, while thanking V'landys.

"It's an honour to be appointed CEO of the NRL," he said.

"I want to thank the commission for their support and setting the strategic direction to lead the game through the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In particular, I want to thank Peter for his leadership and guidance. I've learnt so much from him and will continue to. The game is very lucky to have Peter as our chairman."

Cronulla Sharks centre Bronson Xerri has been issued with a notice of an alleged anti-doping breach after returning a positive B sample.

Xerri, 19, was provisionally suspended in May after returning a positive sample for Testosterone, Androsterone, Etiocholanolone and 5b-androstane-3a,17b-diol in a test conducted in November last year.

In a statement on Tuesday, the NRL said it had "issued Cronulla Sharks player Bronson Xerri with a Notice of Alleged Anti-Doping Rule Violations under the NRL’s Anti-Doping Policy".

The statement continued: "This follows the return of a positive sample and completion of the anti-doping process administered by Sport Integrity Australia.

"The Notice alleges that Mr Xerri breached the policy through the presence, use and possession of Anabolic Androgenic Steroids prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency [WADA] and the NRL's Anti-Doping Policy."

Xerri will have an opportunity to respond to the matter as he faces a four-year ban.

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