A tough week only worsened for a the NRL’s Warriors after losing 20-6 to Canberra in the relocated match at an empty Cbus Super Stadium.
It was hard not to feel for the New Zealand outfit. After some soul searching, they agreed on Friday to stay in Australia and continue playing for as long as the competition continued, away from their families, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But the Raiders were not interested in showing mercy, piling on three second-half tries to clinch a second straight win before flying back to the nation’s capital in a hit-and-run Gold Coast visit.
The Warriors slump to a 0-2 season start for the first time since 2016.
In another blow for Warriors coach Stephen Kearney, his already depleted ranks took another hit with prop Lachlan Burr (concussion) a second-half no-show.
Boosted by the injury returns of star trio, Jarrod Croker, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Josh Hodgson, the Raiders soaked up 31-degree heat to jump to a 2-0 season start for just the second time since the 2006 season.
But the Raiders didn’t have it all their own way against a Warriors side who tried to put a nightmare lead-up behind them.
They faced an uncertain future after the New Zealand government announced all arrivals into the country would be required to undergo a 14-day self-isolation period.
The ruling left the Warriors needing to remain in Australia after their 20-0 round-one loss to Newcastle or drop out and leave the competition with 15 teams.
And Australia’s new border laws which kicked in from Friday night prevented non-citizens entering the country and residents returning (without 14 days’ isolation) during the coronavirus pandemic, effectively locking out numerous families.
Warriors officials initially believed that could spell the end of the team’s time in Australia, but the players met on Friday and decided they were in for the long haul despite facing the prospect of staying away from their families indefinitely.
Yet the Warriors started the match full of intent, with Burr crossing after Jarrod Croker spilt a kick in the seventh minute only for the video referee to disallow the try, ruling the Canberra skipper had been tackled in the air.
Canberra finally managed to get on top to lead 6-0 at the main break after a scrappy first half.
And the visitors threatened a cricket score when it blew out to 16-0 after 48 minutes.
However, the Warriors showed plenty of character to stay in the fight and finally had a break in the 75th minute when Kodi Nikorima was awarded a penalty try after George Williams obstructed the try-bound Warriors utility.
The Raiders had the last laugh when Melbourne recruit Curtis Scott scored his first try for Canberra after pouncing on a Williams kick in the final minute.
Later in the day, Melbourne and Cronulla returned to their gritty best on Saturday night as the Storm ground out a 12-10 win at an empty Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
The Sharks led 4-2 at halftime and the game didn’t come alive until the final 20 minutes.
A converted Tui Kamikamica try next to the posts in the 71st minute levelled the scores at 10-all to set up a tense finish.
And with just four minutes on the clock, talented Sharks utility Billy Magoulias gave away a penalty and Cameron Smith calmly kicked between the sticks to remain unbeaten from two games this season.
Both teams had slotted two penalty goals before Magoulias broke the game open after a dogfight throughout the first 60 minutes.
It was an improved performance by the Sharks after a 40-16 flogging by Melbourne at AAMI Park last year in their first home game at their new digs at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
There were concerns for Cronulla skipper Wade Graham late in the game, who went up the tunnel with what is believed to be a foot sprain.
The winless Sharks will next play Newcastle in round three, while the Storm host another unbeaten side in Penrith at AAMI Park.