Billy Burns plays in round two of NRL before season gets suspended due to coronavirus

CALLED UP: Parkes junior Billy Burns played most of the second half in round two against the Dragons in an empty stadium last Friday night.
CALLED UP: Parkes junior Billy Burns played most of the second half in round two against the Dragons in an empty stadium last Friday night.

2020 hasn't quite gone to plan for Parkes junior Billy Burns - but that's no different to almost every other athlete around the world.

His main goal this NRL season was to cement a spot in first grade with the Penrith Panthers, after debuting with the side on August 31 last year and scoring two tries on his second appearance the following week.

But on Monday night the NRL followed suit with almost every other sporting code and postponed its 2020 season, effective immediately, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The competition pushed on to fit in two rounds of the season, games taking place in empty stadiums, and up until then, it was a promising start for the Parkes product.

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary finalised his side to face St George Illawarra Dragons at Jubilee Stadium an hour before kick-off on Friday night, which they won 32-28.

Burns, a former junior Parkes Spacemen and Red Bend Catholic College student, was named off the bench for the round two encounter, playing for most of the second half (32 minutes).

The 21-year-old said he was also the 18th man in round one, warming up for the clash against the Roosters but wasn't called up.

While Burns only has two other games to compare than the more experienced players, he still found playing in an empty stadium to be rather strange.

"It was a bit different, I started on the bench and you usually go down and have a stretch, and you would have a chat with people but there was no one there," he said.

"It was a really weird feeling."

For some it was hard to adjust to - for Burns, all he could say that it was very different compared to the last time he set foot on the field in 2019's round 25.

"The last time I played it was Jimmy Maloney's last game and there was a big home crowd," he said.

"You get an adrenaline rush.

"For some players the crowd helps rise them up.

"But it also allows for more pure footy.

"But I'm getting to play first grade so I can't complain," he laughed.

Burns said he "absolutely" is still getting the same feelings he had on his debut.

"I played my first two games last year so Friday sort of felt like my debut again," he said.

"I was excited, I trained for four months to play."

It was a good confidence boost for Burns being named for the first two rounds for 2020.

"It gives you confidence that the coach wants you there, especially for a young bloke like me, that he believes in me, which is awesome to know," he said.

The risk of the spread of COVID-19 had certainly made the start of the season a new experience for players, with teams going into isolation after round one.

Burns said they were still training but other than that, were given strict instructions to stay at home.

"We were told if it's non-essential, we had to stay in our own rooms and houses - so no going to any cafes or anything," he said.

"Lucky for me I have two housemates."

And like most of us, they are at the moment sitting and working out at home.

"It's a bit crazy... I don't know what's going to happen," Burns said.

"We're still in the dark... we've all been suspended.

"We may have to take pay cuts, we're all pretty on edge at the moment, especially the younger blokes who don't get paid as much.

"We are expected to keep up our fitness so we're working out at home and they're still letting us go for runs.

"When it does come time to play you don't want to be unfit, which would be detrimental to the team."