FLASHBACK: May, 2020

MAY 2020

Canberra Raiders’ English halfback, George Williams revealed that his hero as a youngster, was former Australian five eighth, Trent Barrett.

Williams, who had been compared to Great Britain’s legendary Dave Bolton, had just turned in a man of the match performance for the Raiders, in a 22-6 win over premiers, Storm at Melbourne’s AAMI Park.

Canberra, playing a fast tempo game, led 18-6 at halftime, and never looked threatened by a surprisingly lack lustre home side.

Williams, a product of the Ince Rose Bridge and Wigan St Patrick’s amateur clubs, played a role in two of Canberra’s four tries, and made two damaging line breaks.

He told FoxSports after the match that he grew up admiring Barrett when the Temora product played for Wigan in 2007-08.

Other top performers for Canberra were Williams’ fellow Englishman, Josh Hodgson and Australian Test forward, Josh Papalli

The NRL competition resumed on May 28, after 67 days in hibernation because of Covid. Two rounds had been played before the enforced lay-off, with the Brisbane Broncos one of the most impressive sides.

But on resumption, they were belted 34-6 by Parramatta at Suncorp Stadum, with Eels’ fullback, Clint Gutherson in sparkling form.

The following night, North Queensland claimed their maiden win at the new Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville, with Jason Taumalolo proving unstoppable in a 36-6 humiliation of Gold Coast Titans. It was the Gold Coast’s third straight loss under new coach, Justin Holbrook, who had been recruited from English champions, St Helens.

On the same night, Sydney Roosters beat bitter rivals, Souths 28-12 at Bankwest Stadium, Parramatta with lock, Victor Radley causing mayhem with his brutal defence. Radley was placed on report for a dangerous throw, but later was exonerated at the judiciary.

On Saturday, May 30, the New Zealand Warriors produced a controlled performance to subdue St George Illawarra 18-0 at Central Coast Stadium, Gosford.

The Warriors had farewelled friends and family in New Zealand on May 3 and had trained in isolation in Tamworth, before settling at a new base at Terrigal, on the Central Coast (New South Wales).

Former New Zealand Test skipper, Benji Marshall was the star of Wests Tigers’ 28-16 win over Cronulla at Bankwest Stadum, with hooker, Harry Grant (on loan from Melbourne Storm) also giving the Sharks all sorts of problems.

Four days earlier, rising Cronulla star, Bronson Xerri was handed a provisional four year suspension, after testing positive to performance enhancing drugs.

Newcastle greats, Andrew Johns and Danny Buderus rated the Knights’ 14-all draw with Penrith as one of the club’s most courageous efforts. 

The Knights had lost halfback, Mitchell Pearce to a head injury after five minutes, and his replacement, Connor Watson limped from the field a few minutes later with an ankle injury. Brilliant youngster, Kalyn Ponga was missing through suspension and there were three players – fullback, Tex Hoy and interchange players, Chris Randall and Cessnock junior, Brodie Jones – making their debuts. Randall made 71 tackles.

Fullback, Tom Trbojevic and winger, Brad Parker each scored two tries in Manly’s 32-6 win over Canterbury at Gosford.

Strict biosecurity measures meant that players not in a club’s top 17, were required to act as ball boys. Only 20 players and 12 staff members, who had been isolation, were allowed inside ‘the clean zone’ at stadiums 

Television broadcasters introduced artificial crowd noise to compensate for the lack of ‘atmosphere’ at the grounds.

My thanks to the 2020 Official Rugby League Annual for much of the information contained in this article.

The ‘Annual’ magnificently covers the NRL’s ‘Season Like No Other’, and, as usual, is a great credit to editor, David Middleton.

The demise of the official match programme, Big League, after 100 years of publication (it started out as Rugby League News in 1920) meant an end to a 16-year association with the magazine’s production team, who turned out the ‘Annual’ at the end of each season.

It seemed the ‘Annual’ would be ‘digital only’ when it came out early in 2021, but, at the urging of former Big League editor, Neil Cadigan, efforts were made to record the 2020 season in printed form.

During Summer, a two man production team (Cadigan and former Big League Art Director, Craig Loughlin-Smith, with help from another ‘Big Leaguer’, James Smith) brought the season to life, alongside shots from NRL Photos.

For the first time, the ‘Annual’ is only available for purchase online, through nrl.com

I bought a copy, and it is, as always, proving a wonderful reference point, with so many excellent features, including an article about the 1919 Flu pandemic, which claimed the life of a number of rugby league identities, among them former Newcastle and North Sydney fullback, Jim Walsh.

Another ex-North Sydney player, Albert Tipper, succumbed to the disease, while a Newtown ‘original’, Henry ‘Mum’ Powell, died of pneumonia in Palestine, while serving with the AIF. Powell was one of the many who died from pneumonia, after contracting the influenza infection.

Annie Messenger, the wife of superstar league pioneer, Dally Messenger, was another victim of the pandemic, passing away at Manilla in north western New South Wales, where Dally was licensee of the Royal Hotel.

Despite the pandemic, New Zealand toured Australia in June and July, and Australia returned the favour at the end of the season.

Englishman, George Williams in action for Canberra

Action from a match between New South Wales and New Zealand at the SCG in 1919. Blues’ star, Harold Horder swoops on a loose ball and is supported by Reg Latta. The Kiwi is Dougie McGregor from the Grafton Athletic club in Auckland

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