Rugby league is slowly strangling itself with all its rule changes and a bumbling Bunker that is infuriating fans with its puzzling decisions.
Rugby league has introduced a number of rule changes in recent seasons with some fans becoming increasingly disenchanted with the predictable nature of the game and the number of stoppages.
In an effort to make the game more attractive and appealing, administrators may have in fact diluted their product to a point where those fans are becoming sick off all the stoppages and tactics designed to slow down the ruck and stop teams from building momentum.
The game has undergone a major transition from the way it was played in the ’80s and ’90s.
There’s now a heavy emphasis on player welfare after medical evidence suggested the damage caused by head knocks and concussions will be a real problem in years to come.
The old-fashioned “biff” has been eradicated from the game.
Shoulder charges, which caused a lot of damage, are now illegal.
The head is a no-go zone.
All are welcome changes, and for the players and their families, they have provided better protection in a gladiatorial sport which still retains its brutality.
But there have been other changes that are confusing and only slow the game down further.
The multimillion-dollar hi-tech Bunker has not proved to be the game’s saviour as was hoped.
It was supposed to be the answer to getting most decisions right.
But it just hasn’t delivered.
Rugby league is a game built on momentum, attrition, and fatigue.
Fatigue brings the smaller, elusive, attacking players into the game and opens up scoring opportunities when the bigger forwards get tired.
It entertains and excites fans.
But once again, a third of the way through the NRL season, we find ourselves with more and more stoppages and with three and four tacklers piling on top of an attacking player just to slow the game down.
In 80 minutes of rugby league, we now have to deal with the confusing repeated “six again” sets, the frustrating “obstruction” rule, the “hip-drop” tackle, the “crusher” tackle, head injury assessment (HIA), captain’s challenges and the new 18th-man rules.
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And, of course, there is the Bunker and its thousand replays.
The Bunker – or as a good drinking mate TK (a dead ringer for Ray Warren) prefers to call it, “The Blunder” – seems obsessed with finding reasons to deny players tries on extreme technicalities.
Surely when it’s difficult to decide one way or the other, the benefit of the doubt should just go to the attacking player.
A glaring knock-on by Viliame Kikau against Parramatta which led to a Panthers try was missed by touch judges, the referee and the Bunker.
NOT good enough.
The NRL’s head of football, Graeme Annesley, admitted Kikau had “dropped the ball cold” with no other player near him but added “he ran past the ball, giving the illusion it went backward” or something like that.
NOT good enough.
On Thursday night there was a controversial call when dynamic young Brisbane winger Selwyn Cobbo scored a try against Newcastle.
It appeared as if a Knights defender had been obstructed in the lead-up play.
In previous similar cases this year the try has always been disallowed.
The explanation was that the attacking player, Te Maire Martin, caught and passed the ball while running behind his own teammate.
But the second he ran behind his own player, the offence was committed, and he should have stopped and gone to ground, killing the play.
Instead, he passed the ball, when a Knights defender was obstructed.
That should have been a penalty to Newcastle, but instead Brisbane scored a try – a big turnaround.
That’s how referees have been interpreting the rule all year.
“I don’t get it. I don’t understand,” said frustrated Knights coach Adam O’Brien during a post-match presser.
He had a fair point judging by how the obstruction rule has been applied all season.
Even rival coach Kevin Walters admitted he thought Cobbo’s try was going to be disallowed.
Annesley’s attempted explanation, in which he claimed that Martin passed the ball before the obstruction occurred, didn’t really wash.
And then there was the Bunker’s controversial decision to disallow a try to Dane Gagai which created a lot of debate as well.
The bottom line is there have been far too many officiating howlers in recent weeks and the powers that be must get on top of things before more fans lose confidence.