The Parramatta Eels head to Suncorp Stadium tonight to take on the Brisbane Broncos in the NRL season resumption.
As we count down towards kick off of Round Three, we take a look at five key things ahead of the blockbuster clash.
It has been 67 days since the Blue & Gold last took the field.
A break in the NRL competition after Round Two due to COVID-19 saw the Blue & Gold players isolated and training alone. They returned earlier this month to complete a mini-preseason ahead of tonight’s season resumption.
Rugby league fans, and the rest of the world, have been waiting for live sports to return and the Blue & Gold are the lucky ones to kick things off. Welcome back rugby league, we missed you.
Eels team changes
The season stoppage saw a positive light for the Eels, with hooker Reed Mahoney overcoming an ankle injury that saw him leave the field early in Round Two.
The number nine has been named in a forward pack that also welcomes Marata Niukore into the starting side. Niukore replaces Nathan Brown at lock, with Brown suspended for a fortnight.
Broncos team changes
Broncos captain Alex Glenn will lead out his side for the first time after overcoming a hamstring and calf complaint. Starting the season with two wins under their belt, the Broncos also named Matt Lodge (knee) and Joe Ofahengaue (club suspension) in their pack.
The break also allowed halfback Brodie Croft (AC joint) and Corey Oates (ribs) to fully recover from those injuries, named in the starting side.
David Fifita (knee) and Tevita Pangai Junior (suspension) are the only topline players missing from the Broncos line-up, with veteran hooker Andrew McCullough recently departing the club to take up a new contract with the Newcastle Knights.
New protocols and rule changes
The NRL have introduced changes to it’s match day protocols and procedures based on the advice of health officials regarding COVID-19. The changes are designed to protect the health and safety of players and fans and will mean a reduced level of interaction both pre-match and post-match.
The Blue & Gold were subject to some of these changes i.e. flying up to the Gold Coast on the same day as they played during Round Two. The Eels will have the same schedule today when they fly up to Brisbane ahead of the clash before flying back to Sydney after the game.
In terms of changes on the field, the Blue & Gold and Broncos will also be the first two teams to play with the new six-again rule.
Whenever the one referee on field believes a defending team has infringed in the play-the-ball area, they will wave six-again and the attacking team will be off and running.
The change is designed to speed up the game through the referee restarting the tackle count instead of awarding a penalty for an offence in the ruck.
The referee will signal "six-again" for any defensive ruck infringement that in the past would have resulted in a penalty, including holding down, hand on the ball, crowding at the play-the-ball and leg pulls.
However, a penalty will be awarded for a professional foul or repeated infringements if a team attempts to slow the play down so their defensive line can get set.
Significantly, any time the referee penalises a player for a professional foul or repeated infringements in the ruck, the offender will be automatically sent to the sin bin.
A repeated infringement scenario may arise where multiple "six-again" restarts have been awarded and, in the opinion of the referee, harsher action is required.
Waqa Blake's moving milestone
Waqa Blake 100th game milestone
No player in the NRL wants to remember a milestone game in a negative light, and it will be no different for Blue & Gold centre Waqa Blake tonight.
Blake will play his 100th NRL game, a milestone that has taken him five years since making his NRL debut.
“It means a lot to me, just a young kid from Perth. I didn’t think I would be here now and to be here now playing my 100th game, it is something massive for me and something I can look back on when I get older,” Blake said ahead of the milestone.