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There seems to be a focus at head office on “excitement”, “fatigue” and “entertaining fans”. But who is asking for these rule changes?
The latest idea from Wayne Pearce is to award a seven tackle set if a ball is kicked “deliberately” into touch.
Who asked for this?
As far as I’m concerned the seven tackle restart if a ball goes dead or is not knocked on in the in-goal is already broken and in need of fixing, given it punishes attempts at try-scoring.
There are virtually no fans saying, “You know what we really need? Even fewer stoppages.”
The tide has already begun to turn against the NRL’s set restart rules.
When it was introduced last year, 82 percent of fans surveyed saw it as a positive. This season, 54 percent see it as a positive.
The latest attempt at a rule change is at odds with already in use rules such as the 40/20 and 20/40.
How can you have two rules rewarding players deliberately kicking for touch alongside another rule that punishes them for doing just that?
We’ve long had discussions this season about “fatigue” and “ball in play”.
They add very little to the game, and actually make the overall quality worse.
The NRL should be more concerned about the flow-on effects of what fewer rest periods will result in.
As compiled by Brien Seeney, the NRL Physio, we are witnessing historic highs in the number of failed HIAs and games missed due to concussion alongside the number of major injuries since the six again was brought in.
So far in 2021 we are on track to see 127 failed HIAs, compared to the season average of 94 between 2016 and 2020.
We are on track for 123 games missed due to concussion compared to the season average of 33 between 2016 and 2020.
Now, there may be some behind the scenes forces impacting on games missed due to concussion as clubs become more cautious, but that’s still a stunning increase.
And in terms of long term injuries we are at 73 for the season, an 18 injury increase on 2020 and a 22 injury increase on 2019. Going back to 2017, we have seen an increase of 30 major injuries a season, the majority of which have occurred since the set restart rules were brought in.
We are also in the middle of one of the most lopsided seasons in the game’s history, and certainly the most lopsided season in NRL history.
Winning margins are blowing out – 45 percent of games this season have a winning margin of 19+. Pretty much double the 2018 season which had 23 percent of games with a 19+ margin.
And where are those 19+ margins coming from? They’re coming from the close games. Games decided between 0-6 points and 7-12 points are down eight percent and six percent respectively on the 2020 season.
Go back to 2018 and it looks even worse with 0-6 point matches dropping a whopping 15 percent, while the 7-12 margin remains at a drop of six percent.
In other words, the floggings have virtually doubled in three years with the biggest jump being in the last 12 months.
Peter V’landys claimed back in May that games are “entertaining for the viewer”. I fail to see how breathless players, madly scrambling to stay in games as a dominant side like Melbourne runs over them with no rest in sight is entertaining.
Games have become more predictable than ever.
Funnily enough, in the past couple of weeks, set restarts have reduced, former set restart leading referee Grant Atkins has pretty much halved the number of restarts he’s awarded in the past two weeks.
He’s gone from an average of eight per game, to three last week and four or five this week.
We’ll see if the trend continues and leads to tighter margins.
What is clear right now, is the NRL is busy tinkering with rules it has no reason to touch, making the game worse, and widening a divide between the good and bad sides.
Furthermore, the NRL is likely to try and institute this without a proper trial period in the lower grades like they did with the two most recent blocks of rule changes.
Stoppages in rugby league, in any sport, are completely natural. Players need a break, and they need a way to organise their field position.
Stoppages are not evil, they are part of our game of attrition, field position and breaking down the opponent.
Rugby league already is the toughest sport in the world combining immense physicality, toughness, fitness and skills. You don’t need to continuously tinker with rules to improve it or attract more “fans”.
Just let the game be.