NRL doesn’t need any more rule changes but a tweak required for unintended consequences of seven-tackle set


When a team is up by two with precisely four minutes left and gets a penalty right in front, pop quiz hot shot – what do you do? 

Cronulla were faced with this scenario last Saturday at Magic Round against the Roosters, clinging to their slender lead in a game that had featured plenty of points and several lead changes. 

Taking the two would have put them up 34-30 but give the Roosters a chance to bring the ball back to halfway, hoist a high short kickoff to potentially get the ball back in a bid to conjure up a match-winning try. 

The penalty goal option would have also given them a chance to wind more than a few precious seconds off the clock and take the penalty goal or two-point field goal to force extra time out of the equation for the Roosters in their final attacking raid. 

But the Sharks chose to take a tap and play on. There wasn’t even a debate. Straight away, like they were in a rush, not the team in front. 

They proceeded with a conservative attacking set on the Roosters’ line which culminated in Jesse Ramien being tackled on the final play rather than risk a pass or even an offload. 

No kick anywhere near the in-goal area for fear of giving up a seven-tackle set if it went dead. In fact no kick of any description to give the Roosters a chance to return the ball through a scattered defensive line. 

They simply played out their six, reset their defensive line to muscle up for the mission of preventing the Roosters from virtually going the length of the field. 

At the point in time when they surrendered possession it looked like the move had backfired. They had forfeited the chance to double their lead and the Roosters were still a chance to snatch victory in the dying seconds. 

Luckily for the Sharks, or just as they had planned if you give them the benefit of the doubt, the Chooks coughed up the ball on the second play of their set. 

Cronulla then got a bonus attacking set on their opposition’s goal line and this time the red, white and blue defence was breached with prop Tom Hazelton crashing over to seal their eight-point triumph. 

At the heart of this decision-making from Cronulla was the concern that if they put an attacking kick in that the Roosters would not only get the benefit of taking the ball all the way back to the 20-metre line but they would get a zero tackle play as well. 

Teams should not be punished for attacking play close to the line. 

The game’s rule makers should be concerned that, not just in situations like this when the result is in doubt, teams are erring on the side of caution to play out a set by basically allowing themselves to get tackled close to the try line rather than doing whatever they can to put the Steeden over it. 

An attacking team is already penalised enough if they boot the ball over the dead-ball line as the other team gets to take it roughly 30 metres upfield (the in-goal area plus 20m). They shouldn’t get an extra play tacked onto the bargain as well. 

The seven-tackle set was brought in more than a decade ago to stop teams deliberately hoofing the ball dead to concede a 20m tap rather than risk a fullback or winger returning it past them on play one. 

Tweak the rule so that any kick from outside the red zone still incurs a seven-tackle set to prevent negative play like that but if a team has earned the right to put in an attacking kick close to the line in the 80-minute human chess match also known as rugby league, then they shouldn’t be penalised if they put a little too much force when putting boot to ball. 

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Fans don’t come to Magic Round or any match for that matter to see teams play the percentages. They want to see tries or committed defensive lines preventing points, not teams too worried to try an attacking kick because the penalty is too great if they get it wrong. 

Teams are already running the ball on the last play more than ever. It’s not like previous seasons where it was a fait accompli that a team would put up a bomb after five hit-ups. 

With the modern trend of fullbacks being up in the line when teams are defending in their red zone, the kick early in the set is becoming more frequent. 

We are now even seeing the conservative ends to sets in extra time when teams won’t risk a match-winning field goal unless they are in perfect position close to the sticks for fear of a shot going wide to gift a seven-tackle set. 

The rule change served its purpose by stopping players deliberately kicking the ball dead but it needs to be refined so that attacking teams don’t put the cue in the rack when they’re close to the line.

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