NRL guru Warren Ryan makes some very interesting points in this article below; how can the NRL improve the quality and speed of its current game? The UK Super League seems to have the ideal speed and attacking element, but how can the NRL reach that speed in our current format?
Last Sunday, Andrew Johns popped into the ABC Radio box to inquire whether I’d seen the Challenge Cup final at Wembley between St Helens and Hull.Â I told him I’d sat up and watched it. “What a terrific game of football,” he said.
Andrew had previously said publicly that he liked the Super League style because of the speed at which it’s played. He pointed out that they’re not so concerned with defence, but more with outscoring the opposition.
Somewhere along the line, the Aussies figured out that if you don’t let the other mob get too many, it’s not so hard to outscore them.
That, however, requires additional fitness. Working hard on both sides of the ball is an Aussie invention that the Poms have been in no great hurry to embrace.
The point is that being the Wembley Cup final in front of more than 80,000 singing, chanting fans, you’d think winning at all costs would be the plan, yet gang-tackling and wrestling were virtually non-existent.
Either an inability through lack of fitness, or the ingrained habit that two men in a tackle is quite sufficient and any extra energy is best conserved for attack, saw to it that the speed of the play-the-ball was self-regulatory. The “peel off” time for two defenders kept the attacking flow rolling along nicely.
There was no need for the referee to be screaming “move” or “held” at three or four defenders piled on top of the man on the ground or holding him up and “waltzing” with him.
Probably because he watches a lot of English football, Johns suggested on another occasion that there should be a limit of two men in a tackle.
When I asked how it could be achieved and what a team would be expected to do if two men couldn’t cope with a powerful runner in the act of making a break or about to score a try, Joey hadn’t figured out the finer details. But he did offer the thought that a third man in to join a tackle that was nearing completion ought to be penalised.
In any event, there it is, not just some old dinosaur having a whinge, but our most famous recent player – another in a long list of ex-players concerned about the multiple tackling and wrestlemania that has overtaken the game to a point where every coach and team must embrace it or be left behind.
The NRL, to its credit, is experimenting in the under-20s with reduced numbers. The 11-a-side match between the Knights and the Storm was entertaining and no doubt enjoyable to play. It reduced gang-tackling but it wasn’t “glorified touch football”, whatever that is, as one radio windbag claimed.
Frankly, if two teams ran out with 12 men, they could play the entire match and very few would be any the wiser.
Talking to Newcastle coach Brian Smith about numbers, he seemed to think 12 might be about right for the big boys but he too applauded the NRL’s under-20s experiments.
The NRL, also in that under-20s match, trialled a rule that in-goal grubbers would get the same reward as in-goal bombs if they were successfully defused – a 20-metre restart. Someone hadn’t thought that one through thoroughly. Long kicks from out near half-way that finished in-goal were simply touched down by the fullback and the chasing team had no opportunity to gain ground.
But back to some ideas that might make play-the-ball speed more self-regulatory as it is in England and not have it artificially induced.
If it’s a failure to train as hard as Australian NRL players that does the job for English SuperÂ League, then we can conclude, as if we didn’t already know, that fatigue is a necessary element of the game. But we’re not achieving the required degree of it.
The reduction from 12 to 10 interchange has been completely negated by stoppages for video review on ball-stripping, and finding touch is the signal for a stopwork meeting and a casual stroll to the scrum.
I recall Wayne Pearce saying he didn’t think a player had any right to have “three goes at you”. An 80-minute lock forward, Pearce was referring to the big bazookas given two breaks and three bites at the cherry.
Bob Fulton, in a recent discussion, agreed in principle to a suggestion that once a player ran out of puff and had to be replaced, that ought to be it for him. Fatigue would then be a serious component to give 80-minute ball players some elbow room for their creativity.
The notion that number reduction would achieve the aim of no more than two in a tackle, plenty of one-on-ones and have an automatic regulatory effect on play-the-ball speed is unarguable, but the fears are understandable. Tradition dies hard. Hospital queues for end-of-season reconstructions might shrink considerably, but that doesn’t seem to overly concern rulemakers.
A talkback caller provided a clue to achieving Johns’s two-man tackle limit while keeping the game with 13 on 13. “Don’t count the tackle if more than two are involved in making it,” he said.
Think about that.
If the defence didn’t want to give the attack any extra plays, they’d perfect two-man tackling. Imagine the ref stuck on a tackle count like a broken record, “tackle two”, “tackle two”, “tackle two” – or whatever number it was – if the defence continued to gang-tackle the ball carrier.
Anyway, a lot of people have been inspired to put on their thinking caps recently and the wrestling coaches who have put a stranglehold on the game are in no small part responsible. Thanking them for their contribution, though, isn’t on this column’s agenda.