Penrith Panthers went top of the NRL standings with a 22-10 win over the depleted North Queensland Cowboys on Sunday.

Nathan Cleary's decisive display at Panthers Stadium helped the hosts see off a Cowboys side granted an exemption on Friday to replace injured props Jordan McLean and John Asista.

Cowboys fans may have feared the worst when Jarome Luai scored just five minutes in, but a superb solo try from teenager Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow levelled the scores before half-time.

Another rookie, 19-year-old Daejarn Asi, put the visitors ahead early in the second half before the Panthers, led by Cleary, began to assume control.

Brent Naden's try helped restore parity and Stephen Crichton went over 10 minutes later to ease the Panthers into the lead, with Cleary adding the extras.

Cleary had the final say, a couple of dummies creating a gap for him to drive through before converting with the last kick.

In the earlier match, Cronulla Sharks put on a ruthless display as they beat New Zealand Warriors 46-10 at Central Coast Stadium.

Three tries in the first 15 minutes from Braden Hamlin-Uele, William Kennedy and Ronaldo Mulitalo set the Sharks on course for victory.

The excellent Shaun Johnson got a fourth against his former team after Ken Maumalo had put the Warriors on the board, before a brilliant Sione Katoa double and a Jesse Ramien try pushed Cronulla further ahead.

Ramien added a second of his own before Wayde Egan grabbed a consolation, as the Sharks moved into ninth, level on points with Wests Tigers and South Sydney Rabbitohs.

New Zealand Warriors quartet David Fusitu'a, Ken Maumalo, Agnatius Paasi and King Vuniyayawa will fly home later this month.

The Warriors have relocated to Australia for the NRL season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

After Leivaha Pulu returned home two weeks ago, another quartet will depart on July 27 to reunite with their families.

"We can't say enough about the sacrifice they have made being away from their families so long," Warriors chief executive Cameron George said.

"We fully understand the predicament they have been in and we're so appreciative of what they have done in committing to the cause for as long as they have.

"When we travelled to Australia we promised the players everything possible in our control would be done to secure travel exemptions for their families to join them there.

"Ultimately the decision lies with government agencies to approve the applications the NRL made on our behalf. There hasn't been any sign of a favourable result, which we accepted was always a possibility. Given those circumstances David, Ken, Agantius and King are free to go home.

"As well as thanking them for all they've done we would like to thank Peter V’landys and the NRL for all the work they've put in for the players and their families. I would also like to thank the RLPA staff for their support of the players during this time. We're hugely disappointed it hasn't worked out as we would have liked but it was out of our control."

The Warriors are considering how they may replace the quartet in their squad.

New Zealand have won three of their nine games this season to be two points adrift of the eighth-placed Wests Tigers.

Dane Gagai plundered a hat-trick as the Rabbitohs saw off Wests Tigers in the NRL, while the Gold Coast Titans halted a wretched losing streak. 

For each of his three tries in South Sydney's 18-10 win at Bankwest Stadium, Gagai dashed in from close range on the right as the Tigers defence proved powerless to deny him the ball. 

Former Wests target Latrell Mitchell also played a starring role for the Rabbitohs, while James Roberts scored a stunning individual effort, crossing in the same corner where Gagai did all his damage. 

Gagai helped the hosts ease out to a 10-0 half-time lead. Roberts snaked his way through soon after half-time, before his team-mate put the Rabbitohs 18-0 in front just before the hour. 

Wests made a fight of the closing stages, tries from Josh Aloiai and Reece Hoffman helping them to reduce the deficit, but they could not claw their way back sufficiently. The Rabbitohs nudged above both their opponents and the Sharks to climb to seventh place. 

The fiery contest saw Mitchell and Wests rival Josh Reynolds, who were at loggerheads early on after a flash point, put on report. 

The Titans scored a 16-12 home win over the New Zealand Warriors, putting a stop to their 10-game run of defeats at Cbus Super Stadium. 

The game looked to be going the Warriors' way after tries from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Ken Maumalo inside the opening 10 minutes allowed them to open a 12-0 advantage. 

Yet the momentum would turn, Anthony Don soon trimming the Warriors' lead, before Sam Stone and Beau Fermor crossed in the second half, the decisive try from the latter arriving six minutes from time.

Brisbane Broncos players were left in tears after Saturday's 26-16 defeat to the New Zealand Warriors consigned them to a sixth successive NRL loss, while the Penrith Panthers moved up to second.

The Broncos were guilty of making numerous rookie errors throughout the contest, with Anthony Milford culpable for one of the biggest in the first half when overplaying and then attempting an offload as he fell to the ground, gifting possession straight back when a try might have been in the offing.

Thomas Flegler then gave the ball away in the second half when the Broncos were in with a chance of retaking the lead – as it was, the Warriors went on to clinch the win with three tries in the final 12 minutes.

The reality of the Broncos' situation was too much for some players at full-time, with Alex Glenn and Brodie Croft seen crying as a sixth defeat on the bounce was confirmed.

There were contrasting emotions for the Panthers, however, as they came out on top 19-12 at Wests Tigers in a tightly contested affair.

A feisty encounter was deadlocked at 12-12 heading into the final stages, but a field goal courtesy of Nathan Cleary in the 71st minute put the pressure back on Tigers and they were unable to rise to the occasion.

Dylan Edwards went over soon after and a Cleary conversion gave the Tigers too much to do, with Penrith going second in the ladder.

The most dominant performance of the day came in Robina, however, as Cronulla Sharks crushed the Gold Coast Titans 40-10 to claim a third consecutive win.

A tight first half saw Cronulla take a slender 12-10 lead into the break, but it was a completely different story in the second period as the Sharks cruised to victory despite having lost full-back Matt Moylan to a hamstring injury, moving them up to seventh.

Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters overcame injuries to star players to record NRL wins over New Zealand Warriors and St George Illawarra Dragons.

The Storm ran in nine tries - three of which were scored by Suliasi Vunivalu - in a 50-6 thrashing of the Warriors.

However, they lost Cameron Munster to a knee ligament injury that is expected to keep him out for at least the next four weeks.

Meanwhile, the Roosters, who were already without James Tedesco and Josh Morris, had Victor Radley and Sam Verrills go off with suspected anterior cruciate ligament injuries in a battling 26-12 triumph over the Dragons.

Munster sustained his knee injury four minutes into the Storm's contest but continued until half-time before calling it a night, with Melbourne already 22-0 up.

As well as Vunivalu's treble, Paul Momirovski and Ryan Papenhuyzen both crossed twice while Brandon Smith and Josh Addo-Carr scored late tries to go along with Cameron Smith's 14 points from the boot.

Melbourne face the Roosters next, and they could meet a Sydney team depleted by injuries after Radley and Verrills both suffered possibly serious knee problems in the first half against the Dragons.

Sydney went 10-0 up through tries from Brett Morris and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves - the second coming after Tedesco's stand-in Joey Manu had collected his own kick and flicked a brilliant no-look pass to the try-scorer.

The Dragons fought back, though, courtesy of scores from Mikaele Ravalawa and Zac Lomax, who then slotted over a 46th-minute penalty to put them ahead.

Yet Brett Morris - the brother of Josh - completed a second-half hat-trick either side of a score from Luke Keary to move the Roosters up to second.

Disgruntled New Zealand Warriors players may want to head home following coach Stephen Kearney's shock dismissal.

That is the stark warning from caretaker boss Todd Payten, who made the admission after Kearney's departure in the wake of Friday's loss to the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

It was a fourth defeat in six NRL games this season for the Warriors, costing Kearney the job he had held since 2017.

And Payten revealed the extent to which it had impacted on a squad having to isolate in Australia amid coronavirus travel restrictions, describing it as being "like we've had a death in the family".

"Some may [want to return home]," he said on Sunday. "Yesterday it was an emotionally charged day.

"Stephen's very well respected and loved by the players. I don't know how they feel from an anger situation. It hit them pretty hard in the face.

"I really feel for Steve. I know the playing group are rattled and are still processing at the moment.

"It was eerie, it's been a difficult and strange 24 hours. It's almost like we've had a death in the family. It's a really strange atmosphere."

In an outburst that seemingly captures the mood inside the Warriors camp, former forward Sione Faumuina tore into the club's hierarchy.

"It's the most selfish, lacks-empathy decision I've ever seen within any franchise in the NRL," Faumuina said. "If I was playing and that happened ... I'd want to come home now. I'd be like, 'F this, send me home'."

However, CEO Cameron George felt the club was justified in taking the decision.

"Going into this year, obviously we understood we needed to see improvement. Then obviously we take into account what's happened with the COVID-19 and the unfortunate situation our team are in at the present," George told The Sunday Footy Show.

"But from the owner's perspective, we looked at the core principles of what we do, and we make decisions as to what's best for our future, what's best for our club moving forward."

The New Zealand Warriors have sacked head coach Stephen Kearney after their loss to the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

The Warriors fell to their fourth loss in six NRL games this season, beaten 40-12 by the Rabbitohs on Friday.

Former New Zealand coach Kearney was sacked on Saturday, having taken over in 2017.

"Stephen was informed this morning that we needed to make an immediate change," Warriors chief executive Cameron George said.

"It's a tough day for all of us particularly after last night's performance.

"Stephen is extremely professional and has put in a huge amount of effort in the role but, along with the owners, we feel we need to make a change now in the best interests of the club.

"We're so grateful to Stephen for the dedication he has shown to us in what have been difficult circumstances.

"His commitment, work ethic and concern for the wellbeing of the club, players and their families through this challenging year is testament to his character and we wish him and his family all the best for the future."

Assistant Todd Payten has been named interim head coach.

Wayne Bennett refused to reveal why Latrell Mitchell was so emotional after South Sydney Rabbitohs dismantled New Zealand Warriors on Friday, while Penrith Panthers beat Melbourne Storm. 

Mitchell was outstanding as the Bunnies thrashed the Warriors 40-12 to secure back-to-back victories in the NRL. 

The full-back set up tries from Campbell Graham and Alex Johnston, with Adam Reynolds and Braidon Burns also crossing in the first half at Bankwest Stadium. 

Cody Walker, Damien Cook and Alex Johnston dotted down in the second half of a one-sided encounter, which saw David Fusitu'a and Agnatius Paasi score for the Warriors. 

Mitchell, who looked fortunate to get away with a high shot on Fusitu'a, was emotional on the field after the final whistle and was seen in tears in the dressing room, but Bennett was in no mood to explain the reason. 

The Rabbitohs coach told reporters: "No I'm not going to tell you why. It's got nothing to do with you, to be honest with you.

"He may well have been [upset] but it's got nothing to do with you. The changing room for me has always been a sacred place and unfortunately the game gave away a lot of our rights to those places, but in my mind and in my head, it's a place where we can go and be who we want to be and not have to answer anyone."

Penrith later moved above the Storm to go third with a 21-14 victory at Campbelltown Stadium.

Stephen Crichton, Brian To'o and Viliame Kikau touched down, while Nathan Cleary scored nine points with the boot in an influential display for the Panthers.

 

NRL leaders Parramatta Eels produced a storming second-half fightback to beat Penrith Panthers 16-10 after New Zealand Warriors downed North Queensland Cowboys on Friday.

Penrith were 10-0 up until just after the hour mark in the battle of the west at Bankwest Stadium, first-half tries from Brian To'o and Josh Mansour putting them on course to go top of the ladder.

The Eeels clicked into gear in the final quarter, though, with the influential Waqa Blake, Clinton Gutherson and Ryan Matterson going over to maintain their perfect record.

Parramatta are three points clear at the summit after winning five out of five at the start of a season for the first time since 1986, while Penrith's loss was their first of the campaign and Kurt Capewell also suffered a medial ligament injury to his knee.

To'o crossed for the opening score midway through the first half and Mansour finished off a slick move on the left flank four minutes prior to the interval, with Nathan Cleary converting.

It was Blake who got the Eels back into a contest watched by a limited number of members and corporate guests, charging over before laying on a score for Gutherson.

Parramatta had three tries in the space of six minutes when Matterson benefited from a kind bounce of the ball to dot down, Mitchell Moses adding the extras for a second time and Brad Arthur's men defending for their lives to win a thriller.

Peta Hiku grabbed a hat-trick as the Warriors scored seven tries in a 37-26 defeat of the Cowboys at Central Coast Stadium earlier in the day.

Kodi Nikorima also sparkled for the Warriors, while North Queensland lost Valentine Holmes and Jordan McLean to injuries as they slumped to a third defeat of the year despite 14 points from Kyle Feldt.

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.

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.

Paul Gallen would consider coming out of retirement to help the depleted New Zealand Warriors when the NRL season resumes.

The former Australia prop retired at the end of last season after spending his entire NRL career with Cronulla Sharks, including captaining them to their first ever premiership in 2016.

However, the 38-year-old has declared his willingness to make a comeback for the Warriors, who face a shortage of forward options ahead of a return to action at the end of May after the coronavirus-enforced suspension to the 2020 campaign.

Due to the strict biosecurity measures put in place ahead of the competition's restart, the Warriors are to be based in Gosford and play their home games at Central Coast Stadium.

But injuries are already an issue for the team, with Leeson Ah Mau joining fellow props Bunty Afoa and Jackson Frei on the sidelines. Jazz Tevaga is also a long-term absentee.

"The sacrifices they've made, I would consider it," Gallen told radio 2GB's Wide World of Sports show on Tuesday.

"Look, I only retired last year. I was doing plenty of contact work in training with the [Cronulla] Sharkies up until two months ago.

"It's probably a long shot, but I would consider it."

The Warriors - who lost their opening two games prior to the break - plan discussions with the NRL over potential loan signings to bolster their squad, though a previous request was rejected.

"We've been declined already from the NRL for loan players, but we're going to have a second discussion with them," Warriors CEO Cameron George said, according to Fox Sports.

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