Impressive-looking, not hard-fought: Trend toward the flashy is eating away at what rugby league ought to be


Rugby league continues to regress where too many features of it tend towards a rough demonstration game rather than a competitive sport.

Now hold hard and let me make my point before you close me down. Without doubt there are plenty of moments of hard competition in running and tackling. So what then is my gripe?

Many years ago we lost scrums. Scrums are so disgraceful now that I would not describe them as a demonstration even, but rather a strange ritual. Why do we designate forwards’ positions? What does a player do differently these days when playing in these positions? Nothing, there are only generic forwards. You might choose the hooker to go to dummy half, but you could choose anybody. That is not an inherent part of being a hooker.

In the old days, scrums were contested. Being in a scrum was not for the faint-hearted. Hookers actually hooked. So did props. Each forward position had its own characteristics and requirements. The props were strong and hard players.

Backrowers had to be fast and able to get out of the scrum and support the attack or act as cover defence. If a team had a dominant scrum and could rely on winning more than their share of ball, then you could kick for touch and mount great pressure on the other team by winning possession at better field positions.

(Photo by Getty Images)

It was great to play under these circumstances, and it gave the fans a building sense of excitement and pride. You don’t seem to have the same levels of excitement these days. In those days the edge of the seat wore out quicker than the rest of it.

If I were to be awarded a million-dollar commission to find something that would improve the game for both players and fans and really build the game, my recommendation would be simply that. Have proper scrums that were competitive. Could not fail.

But now there is another development. Players consistently play out of position. It is called sliding defence and it is a blight on the game. Back in the day a winger was told in no uncertain terms to stay on his wing – no matter what.

Don’t come in, even to tackle in an attempt to save a try, except in the most extreme circumstances. Let the error causing the gap be revealed for what it is and fixed accordingly, rather than masking the problem or exacerbating it.

What a flick pass from Averillo in the #WestpacRedZone to help Isaako score his hat-trick ????

— NRL (@NRL) May 6, 2024

You could ask Wayne Bennett if this is true, he played in those days. I can’t recall for years seeing a game of league where tries are not scored due to unattended wings. The cover defenders usually get there but are seldom able to prevent the try. Using all your speed to just get there is much different to already being there.

Now the thing is, it looks good. You see players desperately scrambling and wingers making dramatic leaps and scoring. But this is what I mean by it being a demonstration, rather than a competition.

You could stop the try in most instances by having the players in their position and marking their man. Rugby league would be so easy to ‘fix the results’ these days, merely by sliding your defensive line in to allow opposition tries at will, while the unobservant fans only see tries scored.

Ravalawa puts the Dragons in front right on half-time! ???? #NRLSharksDragons

— NRL (@NRL) May 5, 2024

Leaving space out wide makes it easy for the opposition to score impressive-looking tries, rather than hard-fought tries which the real game should be about.

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They are impressive-looking demonstration tries, and the trend is not good for the sport. Take notice when you are watching. I have to refrain from commenting aloud at these regular occurrences as everybody here, including myself is sick of me saying ‘unattended wing again’. I will even throw this suggestion in for free with my million-dollar commission to improve the game of rugby league.

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