Calls to introduce an 18th man for concussion or injury have grown louder after Cronulla was forced to play the second half of its 28-4 loss to Parramatta with no players on the interchange bench.
In what is shaping up as a nightmare round of injuries in the NRL, the Sharks lost four players in the first half at the Western Sydney Stadium — three to concussion and one with a knee injury.
Captain Wade Graham, second rower Briton Nikora and fullback Will Kennedy all failed head injury assessments in the first half, while the Sharks’ lone scorer Sione Katoa was carried from the field with a PCL injury after 23 minutes.
It left the Sharks with no reserves and facing the risk of finishing with fewer than 13 players on the field as they conceded three tries for the second half while praying for no further serious injuries.
It was a brave effort from Cronulla to play out the final 40 minutes, with big men Aaron Woods, Braden Hamlin-Uele and Toby Rudolf all robbed of a spell.
For the Eels, Blake Ferguson finished off a double in the second half, while prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard stormed onto a ball from Junior Paulo to punish tired defenders with seven minutes left on the clock.
Star winger Maika Sivo resumed his ritual of scoring, while Ray Stone nabbed a rare four-pointer after a 30-metre run with three minutes left in the contest.
But while the win has given the Eels an unbeaten start to the year, the romance of their night was overtaken by a horror injury toll sweeping the game.
The debate had flickered in the NRL over recent weeks after the AFL introduced an injury substitution for players ruled out of the game.
At the end of the third day of play in round three, the NRL’s injury toll is soaring and the conversation on player welfare has roared back into life.
The carnage at Western Sydney Stadium came directly after Canberra’s loss to the Warriors earlier in the day where the Raiders finished with just one man on the bench as players stayed on the field with injuries.
Already big names including Ben Hunt (leg), Luke Keary (ACL), Dylan Edwards (hand), Michael Morgan (shoulder), Lachlan Lam (MCL) and Lindsay Collins (concussion) have suffered injuries over the weekend.
The Eels were brave in their own right, with halfback Mitchell Moses withdrawn after 25 minutes after copping a knee to the head while attempting a low tackle on Sharks forward Jack Williams.
Moses initially refused to come off, but was clearly concussed and taken to the sideline by the Eels trainer where he failed his HIA.
The Eels have a nine-day turnaround before they play the Wests Tigers on Easter Monday, which is enough time for Moses to pass concussion protocols if he does not suffer any setbacks during the week.
Meanwhile, the Sharks will play North Queensland on the Sunshine Coast next Saturday with question marks over a number of players.
Broncos beat Bulldogs to break run of outs
Brisbane has Jamayne Isaako to thank for ending their 13-match NRL losing streak, with the fullback sparking his side after an ugly first half in a 24-0 defeat of Canterbury at Lang Park.
Not since the sides last met 259 days ago had the Broncos won, with both teams finishing with 3-17 records last season and arriving on Saturday behind back-to-back defeats to start this season.
They played like wins had become a foreign concept, with errors punctuating a painstaking first half in which Isaako’s penalty goal was the only point-scoring play.
The theme continued in the second half before the Brisbane fullback emphatically ended the stalemate with a solo try in the 60th minute.
He then broke the line again to set up winger Xavier Coates to give Kevin Walters breathing space as the rookie coach prepared to celebrate his first NRL win.
Coates was not done though. He leapt to take a kick and sprinted 60 metres through traffic for his second try.
Walters heaped pressure on his under-performing halves Brodie Croft and Anthony Milford by adding halfback Tom Dearden to the bench.
The 19-year-old was only introduced in the 73rd minute but still snagged a try, winning the race to an impressive Herbie Farnworth kick.
The win was a pressure reliever for the Broncos, who have heavyweight quartet Melbourne, South Sydney, Penrith and Parramatta to play over the next month.
The Bulldogs had their chances and looked more likely before Isaako’s big play.
But they only had themselves to blame. Adam Elliott and Kyle Flanagan combined to bomb a certain try when Elliott hesitated to throw the final pass with only Isaako to beat.
Flanagan fumbled the ill-directed pass off his head and onto the ground as he ran under the posts.
The listless performance, against a team that conceded a club-record 624 points last season, was another nightmare for coach Trent Barrett to follow a 28-0 loss to Penrith in the wet last week.
Bulldogs pair Josh Jackson and Renouf Atoni were also placed on report for dangerous tackles.
Because of the latest COVID case, Brisbane now faces an uncertain wait ahead of Friday’s match against the Storm in Melbourne.
They were to enter a degree of isolation following Saturday’s match and could fly to Melbourne on Tuesday to ensure they can be tested, while the game could also be moved to Sydney.
Warriors mount comeback to beat Raiders
A spirited second-half comeback led by captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has helped the Warriors to a famous 34-31 victory over the Raiders at Canberra Stadium.
An extraordinary defensive effort by the fullback denied Jordan Rapana a match-winning try in the dying seconds, Tuivasa-Sheck diving full stretch to knock the ball out of his opponent’s extended arms.
The Warriors had already come back from 19 points down — their largest deficit since joining the competition in 1995 — with Adam Pompey scoring the match winner in the 77th minute after a length-of-the-field movement by the visitors.
Second-half tries to Kodi Nikorima, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Bayley Sironen, Tuivasa-Sheck and Pompey were the difference, with Addin Fonua-Blake their only scorer in the opening stanza.
Down 25-6 at the break, the Warriors picked up some irresistible momentum, Fonua-Blake and Murdoch-Masila leading the way and making plenty of metres up the middle.
Murdoch-Masila’s 59th-minute try was controversial, the forward almost tripping over gathering a pass from Nikorima, the feeling being it may have been forward.
Cleared by referee Henry Perenara, it proved to be a turning point as the Warriors laid on another two tries.
Earlier, it was all the Raiders despite a number of injury issues.
The home side lost three players in the opening 12 minutes of the match — Joseph Tapine rolling his ankle re-joining the defensive line, while Sebastian Kris and Ryan James clashed heads when making a tackle.
But after conceding the first try, they ran rampant.
Jack Wighton took the line on to score in the 15th minute, before tries to Ryan Sutton, Iosia Soliola and George Williams, who all crashed over from close range.
Relentless Raiders ruck speed did the damage, forcing the Warriors into multiple set restarts and five penalty infringements.
When George Williams slotted a drop-goal just before half-time the game looked just about over, but the Warriors’ extraordinary comeback was yet to come.