8th April 2021, 10:22 | nrl
England prop Luke Thompson is looking forward to playing his first match for Trent Barrett’s new-look Canterbury Bulldogs team against Melbourne on Saturday after a serving a four game suspension.
Thompson, who joined the Bulldogs from St Helens midway through last season, has endured a frustrating introduction to the NRL after being forced to live on his own due to the strict bio-security protocols in place upon his arrival and receiving the four-match ban for an eye-gouge in the last round.
However, Thompson has finally had the opportunity the travel after being reunited with his partner during the off-season and has been preparing for his return in Saturday’s match against the Storm at Stadium Australia.
“It was a bit frustrating that everyone was getting back to playing and I had to miss out for a few weeks but I just kept training and treated it like an extended pre-season,” Thompson said.
“I was pretty proud of what I did last year considering the challenges that I had; being sat in my house in England for three months in lockdown, training on my own and then sat in a hotel room for two weeks [of quarantine] in Melbourne, where I couldn’t really do too much.
“I was thrown straight in in Brisbane and played 10 games after that. Last year had its challenges but I am buzzing to play after the pre-season I have had.”
With NRL players effectively restricted to home unless they were going to training or play a match, Thompson did not have the opportunity to socialise with his new team-mates away from their Belmore Oval training base.
“The bubble was tough because you come to another country on the other side of the world and you want to get out and have a look around but I couldn’t really go anywhere,” he said.
“But I was grateful that I got to come out here and do my job. If I was back in England, I would have been just sat in my house, not doing anything.
“In the off-season I got the missus out and we went away a few times. We went to Orange for a few days, visited some vineyards and we went up to Nelson Bay.
“I got [sun]burnt to death so I have to be careful but it was awesome. It is just good having someone at home when I get home. I can’t thank the club enough for getting her out here.”
The Bulldogs are one of three clubs yet to win a match in the opening four round of the NRL, along with Manly and North Queensland, and will be hoping that the return of Thompson coincides with a change of fortunes against last year’s premiers.
The Storm have started the season with two wins, including last weekend’s 40-6 demolition of Brisbane, which featured four tries in 11 minutes by star fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen.
The Broncos face South Sydney in the opening match of round 5 on Thursday, with England prop Tom Burgess leading a forward pack that laid the platform for the Rabbitohs 38-0 defeat of Canterbury.
The Warriors, who are set to return home in June following the introduction of a trans-Tasman travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand, host the Sea Eagles in Gosford on Friday.
Penrith will be aiming to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their first premiership by continuing their unbeaten run against Canberra on Friday before members of the club’s 1991 grand final winning team, including the legendary Royce Simmons, who coached St Helens in 2011 and 2012.
English forward Ryan Sutton has retained his place in the Raiders forward pack after last weekend running 180 metres with the ball and dedicating his second NRL try to his grieving mother in England.
"To get over the line was special and I dedicated that one to my mum, and my family back home," Sutton said. "She lost her cousin the other day to cancer and that was for him.
"I was on the phone to mum and she was in tears. All I wanted to do was give her a big hug and we are in a real hard position at the minute, with COVID and whatnot, not to be able to see your family.
"I don’t really wear wrist strapping or anything but I said to my mum that if I did score a try, which doesn’t come often, I would dedicate it to him. He was definitely looking over me."
The Titans and Knights, who have lost halfback Mitchell Pearce with a ruptured pectoral muscle but welcome back star fullback Kalyn Ponga, will both be seeking to return to the winner’s circle when they meet on the Gold Coast on Saturday.
Cronulla’s premiership credentials will put to the test when they face Sydney Roosters on Saturday, with Trent Robinson’s men flying high after the stunning debut of 18-year-old halfback Sam Walker in last weekend’s 32-12 defeat of the Warriors.
Walker, who has taken over the playmaking reigns after Luke Keary’s season ending knee injury, was born in England while his father Ben was playing for Leeds in 2002.
Wests Tigers will pay tribute to Tom Raudonikis by wearing a Western Suburbs Magpies-inspired jersey in Sunday’s clash with North Queensland after the former Kangaroos great passed away this week following a long battle with cancer. Raudonikis was aged 70.
The final match of the round pits the in-form St George Illawarra Dragons, who have won their last three matches, against the unbeaten Parramatta Eels before what is expected to be a sell-out crowd at Bankwest Stadium.