Rules that cruel the NRL: Inconsistency and psychic silliness holding back the game


The current NRL product is as good as it’s ever been.

All the athletes in the NRL with their skills, speed, strength and fitness levels are better than they’ve ever been in the game.

However, I still prefer watching rugby league from the 80s and early 90s. That was the golden era of rugby league. The NRL could currently be at the beginning of another golden era however they are shooting themselves in the foot with rules and interpretations that frustrate fans.

The rules are there for the preservation of the game and to enforce safety, clarity, consistency and fairness. But rule changes and interpretations over the last eight to ten years haven’t always improved these factors and I’ve been more exasperated at some decisions than ever before.

Spencer Leniu exchanges heated words with Kotoni Staggs. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

One of the first things the NRL are getting wrong is “INTENT”. How anyone can know what a player is thinking in a moment shouldn’t come into the game, because depending on your perspective it leads to a conclusion that may or may not be correct?

For example, the intention of Spencer Leniu when he used that word versus the intent of Taane Milne when he cannonballed Cameron Munster’s legs. It is my opinion that the intent of Spencer Leniu was not to racially insult Ezra Mam. It is also my opinion that the intent of Milne was to injure or at least hurt Munster.

One player got eight weeks while the other got two. Now my opinion could be wrong. I don’t know what either player’s intent was because I’m not a mind reader and I don’t believe that referees or anyone on the NRL Judiciary are either. Now the NRL are reading the minds of “disruptors” and the “INTENT” of a player contesting the ball, another example of this psychic silliness.

Don’t over think it, look at their actions and don’t try to guess what they are thinking. Focus on the action and not the “INTENT”.

Inconsistency is another issue plaguing the NRL. Both on and off the field. The bunker, match review committee and judiciary seem to be consistently inconsistent. The no knock-on by Tommy Talau which led to Toluta’u Koula sprinting away to score in Manly’s win over the Panthers was fine by me, if only it was consistent with what had come before and what we’ve seen since.

Every week, if not every game since the Manly round five match there has been a similar handling error that is deemed a knock-on. How can anyone know what is or is not a knock-on when the NRL don’t know themselves?

Inconsistency seems to affect many areas in the NRL from penalties and foul play like hip drops and high shots to try’s being allowed or disallowed due to obstruction or grounding – to sin bins, charges and suspensions. In the round seven clash between the Panthers and Tigers, who made the decision not to sin bin Brad Schneider and how did they come to that conclusion?

It seems to me that it was a clear and easy decision. Why are the referees and officials so confused on how to apply the rules? Is it the way the rules are worded or is it the way the NRL instructs them to adjudicate? Sure the referees will make mistakes, that’s understandable and was accepted in the glory days of the 80’s and 90’s before the bunker, but since 2016 even with the big brother technology, the NRL is still too inconsistent in their judgment. I think the NRL need to simplify some rules and give more freedom for common sense.

Which leads me to the next issue, the bunker. I would prefer the bunker was only used for foul play and try scoring, however I know that I’m probably in the minority given today’s technology. The bunker is causing problems when applying the freeze frame to something that happens in a second and at top speed. Insert Andrew Johns blaring “The game is not played in slow motion!”

Reece Walsh (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Without the freeze frame, more tries would be scored in the NRL. While they do get it right sometimes, rugby league wasn’t meant to be refereed that way. In the round eight game between the Tigers and Broncos, Api Koroisau scores a try only to be stripped by the bunker. Anyone sitting at the game watching with the naked eye would award that a try. I think that even with the freeze frame it still meets the criteria for a rugby league try. Once again, the rule to re-grip the ball prior to grounding is another headache.

I’ve seen tries given with the exact same features as the Koroisau try. So from now on, if the NRL remains consistent, any try that is scored must not leave the grip (control) of the player even by a centimetre, otherwise it must be re-gripped with two hands to be awarded a try. The NRL must like to make things hard for themselves because if you are running to score a try with the ball bouncing along the ground from a kick, do you need to grip that ball with both hands and have control to have a try awarded?

My understanding is that all you need in that situation to score a try, is apply downward pressure. Once again the NRL need to simplify some rules and give more freedom for common sense.

Goal-line drop outs have become another issue that in my opinion needs to be looked at. There is less reward for building pressure from repeat sets this season, and in my opinion the game is poorer for it. Something I really enjoy about finals and origin football is the great teams ability to build and absorb pressure.

We have seen a trend start this season of simply turning the ball over on the last if you are within ten metres of your opponents goal line, because that is a better outcome than trying for a repeat set. If you get the attacking kick wrong it’s a seven tackle set from the 20 metre and if you get it right, it’s often a 50/50 contest with no major consequence for the defending team posing the aerial challenge.

If the ball doesn’t go 10 metres forward from the drop out, then the ball should remain alive for the attacking team, enabling a try opportunity. Or return to making it a penalty if the ball doesn’t go 10 metres or goes out on the full – giving the attacking team the choice between a conversion or tap. That way it puts pressure back on the defending teams kicker to get it right, in the same way the pressure is applied when the attacking team is kicking into the in-goal.

A current topic of contention in the NRL is concussion and the kick off. Keep the kick off, but I don’t like seeing players concussed. The technique must therefore change.

The reason players tackle the way they do today is because of the reward. Wrapping the ball, holding a player up, slowing down a tackle and winning the ruck. They are coached to tackle upright and hit through the chest, which in turn creates inevitable head knocks.

The NRL are going to have to punish clubs and coaches from using that style of tackle technique. One option is to make any contact above the shoulders a mandatory sin bin for 10 minutes. That doesn’t necessarily mean it deserves a judiciary charge, for example, in the case of the Taylan May / Reece Walsh head clash in round three, Taylan May would have been sin binned for 10 minutes however he wouldn’t be charged by the match review committee – due to the accidental nature.

Another option is to reward one on one tackles where the point of contact is below chest height by calling it a dominant tackle and not allowing a quick play the ball. Even a combination of these ideas should help coaches and players change tackle technique.

Concussion will never be completely removed from rugby league unless we move to tag or touch, but it can be minimised. With that in mind I wonder about allowing a five man bench in todays game. We have an 18th man sit on the bench anyway. Teams can still only use four of the five players sitting on their bench and the number of interchanges remains the same, however it allows the option to put a back on a five man bench that could cover an early concussion, like what happened to the Dragons and Moses Suli in the Anzac Day clash last week.

The NRL needs to be able to allow for the grey areas in rugby league, by allowing for common sense and real time, which is how the game was meant to be officiated.

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