Three Chooks in the tackle slow the play the ball down. Picture: AAP
Three Chooks in the tackle slow the play the ball down. Picture: AAP

Old school remedy can cure NRL disease

NRL officials have been crunching the numbers so hard this week they have come out in spots resembling decimal points.

Percentage of ball in play. Minutes missed. Falling TV ratings. Worrying crowds.

It is a highly contagious condition for those involved and for the game itself, with a worrying paradox; too much attention and it gets worse.

Thankfully there is a cure at hand.

The smartest thing said in rugby league this entire year was all about feel and not cold hard statistics.

Chris Anderson went on NRL360 during Retro Round and as the comparisons between the modern game and the game he once coached and earlier played in were being made, Anderson had a simple solution for the wrestling, time-wasting malaise having a negative effect on the game.

"I've always thought rugby league has a natural rhythm," he said. "The speed of the play-the-ball should take about as long as it takes to get back your 10m."

It is a simple philosophy. Under this rhythm, a particularly good run is rewarded by the defence struggling to get reform. A particularly good tackle rewards the defence with slightly more rest before having to move up.

Nowadays, though, the wrestle dominates the game so much dummy-halves walk to the play-the-ball and the defence has time for a quick hand of cards before having to be ready for the next tackle.

The rhythm is gone. Referees are so busy looking for "indicators" in tackles such as wrestling grips, leg pulls, players turned north-south, turtle rolls and other artificial methods coaches have manufactured to slow the play-the-ball they overlook the key essential, which is the time it is taking.

 

Sin binned players have resorted to time wasting to give their team a rest. Picture: AAP
Sin binned players have resorted to time wasting to give their team a rest. Picture: AAP

 

When was the last time a team was penalised for simply taking too long in the tackle? It no longer happens as coaches now require a full report, witnessed and signed off in triplicate.

An old fashioned remedy of common sense is the cure. Anderson explained it perfectly, summing up neatly the quandary the NRL found itself in when chief executive Todd Greenberg announced the tackle crackdown before last season began.

By attacking the play-the-ball and the 10m at the same time the NRL was, effectively, regulating the natural speed of the game in a manner akin to pressing both the brake and accelerator to control a car's speed.

One at a time, in future.

This week the NRL rules committee is spending Thursday and Friday discussing ideas for improvement after figures released to the 16 clubs this week showed a downturn in the game.

Less footy being played on the field and less people watching off it.

A dozen different reasons will be given why, some legitimate and some outright confusing. In essence, though, dissatisfaction with where the game has drifted must be offered as a reason.

Cameron Smith winds down the clock before a drop-out. Picture: AAP
Cameron Smith winds down the clock before a drop-out. Picture: AAP

So the rules committee have a good chance to reset.

Not by introducing more rules and interpretations but by peeling them back.

Watch what the game looked like when it was at its aesthetic best and strip the rules back to return it to then.

Rugby league used to be a game of attrition. A heavyweight contest as teams battled until eventually one gained the ascendancy and prevailed.

There are two key reasons it no longer exists: interchange and time wasting.

The rules committee will be given data showing too much time is wasted during games.

For some reason the officials tolerate slow walks to the sin bin, stalling at the dropout while waiting for the shot clock to tick down, players approaching the referee for an explanation of the rules they should know, a discussion between teammates on what play to take at a penalty, slow goalkicks, another discussion on heaven knows what at the scrum and players feigning injury to force the referee to call a timeout to all become accepted parts of the game.

All are con jobs designed to give the defence or rest.

 

Bring back an old school mentality and bring back rugby league’s natural rhythm.
Bring back an old school mentality and bring back rugby league’s natural rhythm.

 

While many point to the lack of penalties in Origin as a reason why Origin is such a great spectacle, could they be looking at the symptom and not the cause?

The lack of penalties in Origin creates transition football which creates fatigue, and there's the magic.

So how else can we create more fatigue and transition football?

The appetite to reduce the interchange from eight to six next season is reducing with a feeling being to attack the time wasting first and then see where that leaves the interchange debate.

There is no reason both can't be done, or shouldn't be done.

Wrestling has crept into the game and cannot be unlearned, but there is not a person who loves the game who leaves the stadium wishing they saw more wrestling.

So the question is how to get rid of it?

The answer is the one thing coaches can't coach against, which is fatigue.

 

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