The Penrith Panthers were looking for their ninth consecutive win to go back to the top of the NRL ladder, but if the last few weeks have taught us anything it is that their opponents today, the New Zealand Warriors, are the most unpredictable side in the league.
The coaches made just one change each, Isaiah Papali’i replaced Jack Hetherington for the Warriors, while Dylan Edwards took the place of Caleb Aekins.
The Warriors were long odds with the bookies to spring a surprise from eleventh place, but they had won their last two outings against the Tigers and Wests. Oh, and it was raining Gosford, making the game more of a lottery.
Rugby League was again plunged into turmoil and uncertainty last night with the breaking news that six Hull FC players have tested positive for COVID-19 just hours after their restart defeat at the hands of the Salford Red Devils.
Salford are still awaiting the outcome of the tests on their squad and there is presently no speculation that they have any players with the virus, but there must be great concern amongst the players and staff that they have potentially been exposed and could lose players themselves.
There was no doubt that the most mouthwatering tie of the restart round, the eighth of Super League 2020, was the clash between the champions St Helens and the side who were sitting at the top of the table until the Wigan Warriors overtook them in this afternoon’s game.
Both sides have already got a game under their belts since the coronavirus lockdown, Saints scoring a comprehensive win over the Catalans Dragons while the Giants launched one of the all time finest comebacks to beat the Giants in Golden Point thanks to a Luke Gale Drop Goal.
Saints were big favourites with the bookies and the Rhinos had been given a ten point start on the handicap coupon. A win of any description would take Leeds back top of the pile, Saints needed to win by more than twelve points to go ahead of Wigan on points difference and into top spot.
Second placed Wigan Warriors and a Wakefield Trinity side in ninth place both got their first outings since the season restart as they met at Headingley in the second match of the triple header.
Just as Salford had been given little chance in the opening game, Trinity were string underdogs to take the two points off a Warriors side who were eyeing up the top of the table and pushing the Rhinos down to second ahead of their match in the final game of the afternoon.
Little could have prepared us for the nail-biting last ten minutes after Wigan looked like they would be runaway winners.
With Hull FC parting ways with coach Lee Radford on the eve of lockdown, they entered the re-start under the stewardship of interim coach Andy Last as he took charge for the first time.
The sides were sat tenth and eighth in the table, a win for the Red Devils would do nothing for their league position unless it was a massive one, but for Hull FC a win would lift them to seventh, level on points with all of the sides ahead of them.
The Red Devils had been given an eight-point start on the coupon as they looked to regain some of the form which saw them reach Old Trafford for last season’s Grand Final. Few could see past an FC win, and the two points going away with the Airlie Birds.
Early season pace setters the Paramatta Eels found themselves in third place in the table with an outside shot at second as they took on an eighth placed Cronulla Sharks, themselves looking for a ladder improvement to fifth place.
There was just one change for the favourites, the Eels, as Ray Stone replaced Takairangi. John Morris made four changes to his Sharks side with Ramien, Dugan, Moylan and Sorensen all in the seventeen man side.
Both sides had four win in their last five outings and the Sharks came into the game on the back of a three game running streak against the Broncos, Dragons and Warriors while the Eels had been the victors in their last two against the Bulldogs and the Tigers.
Bottom side Hull KR and the Warrington Wolves met at Headingley Stadium for the second match on Saturday as both sides restarted their season after the Covid-19 shutdown. A win for the Robins would lift them a single place in the table, above the Salford Red Devils, while a victory for the Wolves could lift them into the top four.
The Wolves were clear favourites with coach Steve Price having a full squad to choose from. Tony Smith was relaxed about his sides prospects pre-kick off and he'd elected to give a number of players who are out of contract at the end of 2020 a go at impressing him.
Everything pointed to the Wolves being way too strong for the Robins.
The Castleford Tigers had their first outing since the restart as they faced a Catalans Dragons side who suffered a heavy defeat against a superb St Helens side last Sunday afternoon.
The Dragons we still without the suspended San Tomkins and named Arthur Mourgue as full-back for the second consecutive game. The Tigers were without forward Liam Watts who suffered a domestic accident with a saw while chopping wood during the week.
Any kind of win would lift the Tigers into top spot in an early season table ahead of the rest of the fixtures but a big win for the Dragons (77 points) could see them jump from seventh to top but any kind of win would see them into fifth.
The game of the rounds saw the champions elect Penrith Panthers at home to fifth placed Canberra Raiders. The Panthers needed the win to go back to the top of the ladders after Melbourne Strom reached the summit earlier in the round. The Green Machine knew that a win would do nothing for their ladder position but it would draw them level on points with the Sydney Roosters.
Both sides made just a single change to their line-ups, the Panthers replacing Charlie Staines with Daine Laurie while the Raiders had Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad in at full back as a swap for Semi Valemei.
The home side were the favourites for the win but the Raiders would be giving it everything they had got.
It was a mid-table tussle in Newcastle as the Knights took on the Tigers when eighth played tenth. The Knights could make It up to fifth in the ladder with a win but knew that a loss would see the Wests just a point behinds them and would be a blow to their top eight hopes.
Both coaches were forced into a handful of changes. The home side had Green, Jones, Shibasaki and To’a in their line-up while Michael McGuire had Twal, Leilua, Eisenhuth and Packer in his seventeen-man squad.
Home advantage, and ladder position, made the Knights the favourites but both sides came into the game on the back of two losses, and both have won just once in their last four outings.