Just Leave the Game Alone

The NRL doesn't need to add yet more rule changes to a sport that is already struggling to adapt to its last raft of changes.

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I have written ad nauseam over the past two seasons about the NRL’s pig-headedness at continuously making rule changes that mostly serve no actual purpose.

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”. 

Excellent work done by independent stats nerds (I use the term endearingly) have already shown “fatigue” and “ball in play” to be misnomers.

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.

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  1. The entertainment tail is wagging the game’s integrity dog. Endless predictable attack is favoured over dour defence in what is a rejection of the premise of any good game..that attack and defence are honoured equally in a true contest. Integral to the rugby league ‘contract’ is that you’ve got 6 tackles with the ball to do your best and I have to foil any attempt by you to score. All the rule changes are biasing the contract in the attacker’s favour. Defenders are not rewarded if they hold up their side of the contract. Obvious example is the kick into the in goal to in the hope of getting a try but already knowing the scales are tipped in your favour because a ball forced will result in a drop out and another set of 6 to attack.Lauded by ignorant commentators as maintaining pressure it is in fact a denial of the defence’s efforts that saw the attackers cede possession of the ball( a basic tenet of the game) to take a punt(pun intended) on a hedged kick into the in goal. Any such giving up of possession thwarted by the defence should see the defence rewarded with a tap kick on the 30 or 40 metre mark. Even the contested ‘bomb’ to the winger is heavily weighed in the attack’s favour in that an attacking winger is jumping from a run up while the defending player is jumping from a standing start. There are way too many instances where attack in NRL has become way too dominant resulting in boring predictable play. Sorry for the long rant but that’s only the tip of the iceberg in what I see as the destruction of a really great game.

  2. The seven tackle rule of the ball going touch in goal has 2 “unintended” consequences. A ball rolling dead from an attacking kick within the twenty gives no reward for an attacking play, it is the same outcome if that ball rolls one rotation too much and goes dead vs the intention of stopping the long range kick designed to stop the attacking fullback. Why is this not adjusted? And the tactic teams now employ to manage this risk is the fifth tackle bomb from 40-50metres out which is predictable and gives rise to the frustratingly subjective ruling of an escort. Every change has an unintended consequence.

    We run the risk of the same risk/reward issue with the 40/20 kick, that just misses the 20m mark and results in giving the ball to the defending team for a 7 tackle set. This will stop players taking the risk for the reward. We have already seen the rewards for a successful 40/20 diminished as an attacking team can’t quickly get the ball back into play but have to wait for the ref to decide that the defensive line is reasonably reformed. BTW that is speeding up the game. How is that different to the quick 20m restart from a ball going dead, a quick restart which is encouraged by the NRL?

    Already the six again has become a 2.3 tackle restart.

    Why not police the rules that are curently in place ti improve ts eped of te game (if that is the holy grail of getting to touch football). For example the wrestle has been diminished but getting one’s arm “tangled” in the tackle is now the new wrestle tactic, Watch Josh Hodgson, a master at it.

    I agree let’s stop tinkering with more rules.

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