NRL Round 5 Six Again Coronavirus safety of utmost concern

First tackle: Nothing more important than Coronavirus safety

The daughter of an NRL player attends a primary school where a teacher has tested positive to coronavirus and the NRL's strict biosecurity protocols kick into action.

Any chance of the virus infiltrating the virtual bubbles the NRL has in place around its teams has to be stamped out as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. We knew going into this competition resumption that the entire house of cards could crumble if players became infected, so the strictest of rules were put in place.

We have already seen players sent home from training for shaking a club legend's hand and another for kissing a journalist on the cheek - both were later cleared by testing. The latest "scare" meant the postponement of a whole game, pending test results. The player, Aiden Tolman, will be quarantined for two weeks even though his results came back negative. If his results had been positive, the whole Bulldogs team would have been in doubt.

"There's a very remote risk of infection within the Bulldogs squad. To ensure there is no risk at all, the player will be tested today and the game delayed until tomorrow to ensure the test results have returned," Peter V'landys said in a statement.

"I want to congratulate the Bulldogs for swiftly informing the NRL."

Worryingly for everyone are concerns about the origins of this school teacher's infection. The highly infectious virus has to come from somewhere and early investigations had failed to provide an obvious answer.

Second tackle: Smith's roving commission

Since the Storm lost their first game back from the coronavirus break against the Raiders, captain Cameron Smith and coach Craig Bellamy have been saying that they needed to adjust better to the new faster ruck speed.

They have no doubt been working on a few things, but we saw the biggest change during Saturday afternoon's victory over the previously unbeaten Knights. There was speculation during the week that Smith would play halfback; Rylie Jacks wore the No.7, but the speculation wasn't completely wrong.

The Storm's plan to take advantage of the quicker rucks was for Smith to only go to dummy-half when he was near the play-the-ball, generally down the middle of the field. When he wasn't he would drop into first receiver to control the game from there or even just walk behind the play barking orders like a trainer.

Smith was at dummy-half for the biggest plays, setting up two tries with brilliant passes, but it wasn't imperative for him to be there for every play. The key was to play the ball as quickly as possible to whomever was nearest and keep the defence back pedalling. It seemed to work against the Knights.

Third tackle: Clever Cherry

With the clock ticking down to two minutes and the Sea Eagles hanging onto a hard-earned two-point lead over the Broncos, Daly Cherry-Evans stuck out his arm and knocked down an Anthony Milford pass which was surely going to end in a match-winning Darius Boyd try.

With his players gasping for air, Cherry-Evans cleverly called for a captain's challenge. There was absolutely no doubt at all that he had clearly knocked the ball on; it was an astute use of the rules, allowing his players to reset for one last defensive stand.

Earlier in the game, with only minutes left till halftime, Manly players implored Cherry-Evans to challenge a knock-on call. The thinking man's rugby league captain was seen to check the clock, weighing up whether it was worth risking the challenge with just a set of tackles to defend. He was convinced and his players were right, the challenge was successful, allowing Cherry-Evans to pull it out of his bag of tricks in the dying minutes.

Fourth tackle: Crucial Crichton misses prove costly

In the NRL it seems a very short drop from future superstar to someone who needs more work. Stephen Crichton hit the season restart running with pundits praising his speed, passing and elusiveness in the centres for the Panthers.

In the space of five minutes on Friday night against the Eels, Crichton was hit with a heavy dose of irony. Waqa Blake whose departure from the Panthers would have opened up opportunities for Crichton, taught him that the NRL is the toughest of testing grounds.

Blake scored the Eels first try after they trailed 10-0, sending Crichton sprawling with a big left-hand fend five metres out from the line. From the very next set of tackles, Blake beat Crichton on halfway with some deft footwork, on his way to sending Clint Gutherson in for a try that would level the scores. It was a tough night for the young Panthers centre.

Fifth and last: Fifita fitness concerns

I'm not sure what fitness work the Sharks undertook during the coronavirus break or how restricted Andrew Fifita has been through injury, but the former Test and Origin front rower looked desperately out of shape against the Dragons. Fifita looked more like a pub footballer than a highly paid professional.

The Dragons scored their fourth try in the 62nd minute when Cameron McInnes scooted from dummy half from three metres out. He ran straight at the gap next to Fifita who looked to be struggling with his lateral movement. There is only one way to get match fitness, but it looks like Fifita might need some time out of the good paddock as well.

Handover: Grounds struggle

As the Dragons battled the Sharks at Campbelltown Stadium yesterday one thing was noticeable; the surface was starting to cut up a fair bit. Some recent rain combined with the full schedule of games was taking its toll.

The sooner the NRL receives clearance to move back onto all venues the better it will be for groundsmen, particularly on the heavily used Parramatta (seven games in three weeks), Campbelltown (five games in three weeks) and Central Coast (five games in three weeks) venues.