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When Parramatta Eels centre-cum-winger Waqa Blake launched his blue and gold draped frame at Brookvale’s north eastern corner in what seemed a futile attempt to get the Eels back into the contest, there was one thing he didn’t have to worry about.
The corner post.
That bit of cardboard cover in padding which for so long proved the foil of leaping outside backs, no longer mattered.
More than a decade on from when it was dumped in the middle of the 2010 season as the arbiter of touch in goal, few rule changes have been so successful yet so innocuous.
The rule change saw the corner post making almost everything it touched dead in goal, now only applicable if the ball, free of human possession, came into contact with it.
The whole campaign was of course kickstarted by the then-Channel Nine commentator Andrew Voss who had used his platform both calling games and on The Sunday Roast to rail against the corner post.
In truth, that little roll of vertical cardboard had simply been a forgotten relic from a time gone by.
Voss seemed the only one outraged by it for a period of time, because most others gave it a cursory shrug of the shoulders and when asked why it was there, the answer was mostly;
“Because it always has been.”
He started his crusade in 1998 with the video referee arriving following Super League.
Despite the modern protests of Andrew Johns saying, “the game isn’t played in slow motion”, the game has only benefited from camera replays when it comes to determining whether a player has remained in the field of play.
Take Blake’s miraculous touchdown from round 21 of the 2022 season for example.
In regular speed, he looks out for all money.
Then, frozen at the correct frame, you see his right knee off the ground, the ball on the turf inside the dead ball line and across the goal line, and an inconsequential corner post being wiped out.
A try, that just over a decade ago wouldn’t have happened.
Try and points scoring machine Hazem El Masri, who crossed the stripe 159 times in his career once told Andrew Voss before the rule change that wingers would begin launching themselves from 10 metres out if the corner post didn’t count.
And, well, we’ve been witnessing just that ever since.
As the years have rolled by, wingers and even centres have got better and better at planting the ball millimetres inside the touch in goal line while the rest of their body is hovering out over the touchline and in contact with the corner post.
While the attacking wingers have benefited, their opposing numbers have had to become much better defenders, as simply bumping into someone launching at the corner isn’t going to put them into touch.
Attacking wingers have become experts at contorting their bodies to avoid the majority of an impact and still get the ball down.
In the modern game some wingers have very much become experts in deftly touching down in the corner.
Give the ball to Alex Johnston on the outside of his man and nine times out of 10 he’ll score.
Wingers launching themselves from a long way out is simply just part of the game these days.
The NRL even produced a video from the first five rounds of the 2022 season highlighting these amazing put downs.
And they actually have Ben Barba to thank for this.
The diminutive former Bulldogs fullback crossed for a try in a Bulldogs mauling of the Roosters in 2012, but only narrowly avoided a corner post that was leaning haphazardly into the field of play.
The post had grown in size from a thin cylinder, to a much blockier prism due to the addition of sponsor’s padding. The rules didn’t state the post could be ignored if it was leaning into the field of play.
If a player made contact, they were out, and it no doubt cost plenty of wingers tries in the preceding 102 years.
The NRL’s Nathan McGuirk saw Barba narrowly miss the corner post and, in a rare display of proactiveness from the governing body, decided it was time to change the rule.
A quick chat with, of all people, Graham Annesley, a proposal put to Graham Carr and a discussion with the IRL, and the corner post rule was changed in the middle of the 2010 season.
Overnight, wingers could leap almost with impunity provided they could ground the ball in the in-goal.
Tries that were once chalked off became the focus of highlight reels and efforts like Waqa Blake’s are almost the standard.
It was a change that was a long time coming, especially considering that rugby union had done away with that rule in 2006.
The corner post remains, but it’s almost ceremonial. The question is if, one day, it simply becomes a relic of a bygone era and is completely removed from the field of play?
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