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The Rule Changes to Change the Game – NRL Rulebook

Brisbane Broncos club legend Allan Langer

Our resident referee is back as he goes over how and why rules have changed, who changed them and what rules he would change or amend – Ricky.

Whenever rule changes are discussed in the media, talk of the NRL CEO conference, the NRL Coaches meeting or the rule committee meet, the old heads and media types talk about keeping the integrity of the game we all love.

Some of the rule changes over the last 30 years have had a lasting effect.

Some have made minor adjustments to coaches tactics and some have made small ripples.

Rules that changed the game

The 10m rule, when introduced, opened up rugby league like we had never seen before.

A 15-20m gap between attack and defence was now common and the game changed immensely for the first time since unlimited tackles were scrapped following the St George domination years.

The 1-on-1 strip rule was introduced on the back of cheeky halfbacks and hookers like Allan Langer and Benny Elias, waiting for an attacking player to be held up by two big forwards and then would pinch the ball like a thief in the night.

Balmain Tigers club legend Benny Elias

David Peachey had a hand in the rule change about balls going dead in-goal.

By placing his hand on the ball in his own in-goal area while having a foot over the dead ball line, he ensured his team would get the ball back from a 20m tap.

The rule now, is that the ball must still be in motion to make that attempt. If it has stopped in the in-goal, and you touch it with a foot over the dead ball line, it will be a line drop out.

The 40/20 – a great rule to encourage fullbacks and wingers to keep the ball in play.

Former Cronulla Sharks fullback David Peachey

The Rulebook’s least favourite rule

My least favourite rule is the 7 tackle set.

The rule was introduced to curb teams putting the ball dead on purpose to stop the brilliant fullbacks from having open space.

All it has done is taken away some of the attacking kicks we all loved.

What rule changes would I make?

The rule changes I would make if I were running the game:

  1. The interchange rule – we need to bring back the little guy in Rugby League. What would this game be without Allan Langer, Ben Elias, Preston Campbell etc?

    Do we need to reduce the interchange, maybe, but then we risk teams being unfairly punished for HIA fails and injuries.

    I would have 4 reserves – 2 players are interchanges with 5 interchanges allowed to be made. The other 2 are permanent substitutes. The coach can decide to use his permanent subs whenever he chooses, but its then on him if he has used them and he has a HIA failure or injury.

    It’s a huge call to make, but one that could be done and would profoundly effect the fatigue and open up the end of each half for open attacking footy.

    It also rewards the forwards who have not only power, but big engines that can go for 80mins.

    Former New Zealand Kiwis utility Lance Hohaia being tackled

    2. The 7 tackle set – For kicks taken inside the 20m area, defused bombs, grubbers that go dead etc, 20m tap with 6 tackles.

    For kicks from outside the 20m area where territorial tactics are the aim, 7 tackle set for kicks that get defused in goal or run dead. It works on 2 levels.

    Firstly, deep grubbers and in goal bombs would be back in vogue. That’s a win in my eyes. Secondly, it encourages halfbacks to be bold with their kicks without fear of giving away that all important 7 tackle set.

    If the 20m mark is not the line, make it halfway, I don’t mind.

    This would help open up golden point as 6 tackle sets from missed field goal attempts would require more than just 6 hit ups to get you into range.

    Thus opening up attacking footy. Couple that with the fatique in my interchange rule and golden point would see more open footy and hopefully more games decided by tries.

    Australian Jillaroos side

    3. This one will divide everyone. Cries of “You can’t change something that has been part of the game since 1908” and “this is not AFL” will rain down on me.

    But, its time to change the allocation of points for games in relation to the points table.

    Golden point has already changed the game, and if you watch a game from the 1980’s and compare it to last weekends games, professionalism changed the game more than any rule change will ever change the game.

    But teams that get beat after being drawn after the 80 minutes of play, don’t deserve to get the same amount of points that a team that gets beat inside 80 minutes, so I propose the following – all games will be worth 4 points in total.

    The need for F & A in deciding places is less likely as well:

    a) Win in regulation time – 4 Points

    b)Win in Golden Point – 3 Points

    c)Draw after Golden Point – 2 points

    d)Loss in Golden Point – 1 Point

    e)Loss in regulation time – 0 points

    It would not change the table dramatically, but going into this weekends games we would have a ladder that looks like this.

    1.Storm – 74 (No Change)
    2.Roosters – 63 (No Change)
    3.Raiders – 60 (No Change)
    4.Rabbitohs – 57 (Up from 5th)
    5. Eels – 56 (Up from 6th)
    6.Sea Eagles – 54 (Down from 4th)
    7.Broncos – 46 (No Change)
    8.Sharks – 44 (No Change)
    9.Panthers – 42 (No longer equal 8th)
    10.Knights – 41 (No longer equal with Tigers)
    11.Tigers – 40 (No longer equal with Knights)
    12.Warriors – 39 (No Change)
    13.Bulldogs – 36 (No Change)
    14.Cowboys – 33 (Up from 15th)
    15.Dragons – 31 (Down from 14th)
    16.Titans – 20 (No Change)

    Let me know your thoughts – continue the argument

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Women, Whippersnappers and the Future of Whistleblowers

NRL referee Belinda Sharpe (nee Sleeman)

It’s a thankless job, one that we are all very quick to criticise but very rarely hear praise for “great refereeing performances” A standard weekend is skin thickening.

To give you an idea, I’ll recall a weekend when I was refereeing in a prominent Junior District.

Friday Night – U/16’s – Local derby, decent crowd at a former first ragde venue. About 200 in the crowd, very vocal.

My girlfriend came to watch which was rare, and she could not believe the abuse I copped. I thought my game that night was decent.

Ruck control was good, I enjoyed blowing an early penalty to show my play the balls were important. As all local derbies are, this had feeling.

About 60 minutes in, I sent a player from the home team off for dangerous contact to head and neck, and the abuse came thick and fast.

My girlfriend was horrified at the abuse and spoke to the referees advisor at the ground that was watching my performance. He indicated that I had a good game and that he would hang around after the game just as a precaution.

No issues afterwards, but plenty of verbal leaving the ground.

Sunday U/18’s in the middle. I arrive at the game, there is a phone in the referees room with a direct line to the local police. “What is this place?”, I thought.

Former NRL referee Steve Clark

The crowd during the U/18’s was small but drinking and by the time A Grade begun (and I was a touchy for that), they were in fine fettle.

I was called every name under the sun, some very derogatory based on the pink shirt we wore, some clever and partially funny, some that were downright personal, and against someone who they have never met.

It’s not an easy job, the pay in the juniors is not great, but the camaraderie within the referee ranks is good.

You need a thick skin, you need to block out the crowd, you need to stay level headed when 34 people are not.

Making it to the point where you get graded with the NSWRL or QRL refs is a huge achievement, one a lot of people have been happy with.

The cream rises to the top and they work their way through the grades before finally getting an opportunity at NRL level.

NRL referee Kasey Badger

This year, 111 years after the first game was played, we FINALLY saw our first female referee appointment to an NRL game. Belinda Sharpe (nee Sleeman).

This was not an appointment because she was female. This was not an appointment because, in this day and age, equality must be front of mind.

No, this was an appointment because she deserved it.

The NRL is a long way from Gracemere, near Rockhampton where Belinda first refereed an U/8’s game. Belinda was 18.

In 2019, Belinda and fellow NRL referee aspirant and NRL Touch Judge Kasey Badger were rewarded with fulltime referee contracts with the NRL.

Kasey, the wife of NRL Referee Gavin Badger, could have been in line for a debut before Sharpe until the week before Magic Round saw her make an error in relation to the rules that saw her dropped to Canterbury Cup.

But Kasey is a very, very good referee and I expect an NRL debut is in the near future for this very talented whistleblower.

NRL referee Gavin Badger

Despite the abuse, despite the “boys club” feeling among the old school Rugby League folk that also whinged when Michelle Payne won the Melbourne Cup, these ladies have risen to the top.

Belinda’s first few games have been brilliant. Cool, calm, clear and concise. She has a long career ahead of her.

But they are not alone, go to any footy field in any district, and you’ll see young girls refereeing U/6 to U/18’s everywhere.

Summer at Storey Park in Asquith, Heather at Seiffert Oval in Queanbeyan, 2 of the young ladies that are succeeding in a formerly male dominated pastime.

Former NRL referee Steve Clark can be seen around his old district with the North Sydney refs watching his daughter in the middle, giving tips at halftime on things to improve.

But the young guns are not all young women and I’ll name a couple of guys to keep an eye on in the coming years.

Tom Cambourn – From Balmain refs originally, is part of the NSWRL referee squad and will this week run the Sydney Shield game between Asquith and the Bulls at Storey Park.

A level headed referee who lives and breathes Rugby League.

Luke Heckendorf – Has had a stop start life in refereeing, crossing between Touch Footy and rugby league , but a very talented individual that will continue to improve under the tutelage at North Sydney of people like Steve Clark, Jon Stone and Scott Murray.

All the referees named today have a few things in common.

1.They love the game

2.They have been through thick and thin and stuck by the game in spite of the abuse

3.They won’t ever get Player of the Match recognition, but getting better appointments week in week out is what referees aspire to

4.They enjoy getting paid, but that’s not why they do this. Nobody would do this job just for the money They all deserve respect.

Players, coaches, officials and fans, please note – without referees, the game is nothing more than a weekend BBQ game with friends.

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2019 Referees – Finals Suitability

NRL referee Grant Atkins

As an accredited referee and lover of the game of rugby league, I can honestly say that there have been some positive moves in the referee ranks in 2019.

In saying that, there are still some huge areas of concern.

In my first article for NRL News, I’m going to breakdown the referees who should be close to that finals appointment and those that should consider themselves blessed that there are people within the referee ranks that won’t make some of the tough decisions.

What makes a good referee?

In my opinion, a good referee is someone who has a feel for the game. Rugby league has a unique feel when you are on the field controlling 34 testosterone filled footy players.

Within the game, there are non discretionary rules – rulings that need to be made and are not a judgement call from the referee.

Forward Passes, catching the ball in an offside position.

Then there are rules that are more discretionary.

Holding down in play the ball etc; where a referee has sole discretion to allow the play to flow, or to blow a penalty.

And there are times where it is fine to let something slide for the sake of the game and the situation of the game.

As a referee, I always liked to stamp an authority early.

Tell the captains at the toss what you are really looking for, and pinging the first couple so they know you mean business.

Usually you want to blow an offside penalty, a holding down, a hand on the ball, something around the ruck. If the ruck is clean, the game is a better spectacle.

Once you’ve blown a few early penalties, you start to get a feel for the game, then the penalties disappear unless absolutely required.

In saying that, there are a couple of really good referees in this years crop.

For whatever reason, they seem to get overlooked for most of the big games, but their time will come.

NRL referee Gavin Badger

Referees to look out for

Grant Atkins – Currently my favourite of the crop. Will make mistakes, but we are all human.

He backs his judgement and I’d rather a game that flows with a few minor issues, than a stop start affair with a bunker howler thrown in.

Grant points to the spot when he is confident and referees with that James Maloney forgetfulness that Gus Gould praises.

He doesn’t get stuck on certain teams or penalty streaks, he referees what is in front of him.

Jon Stone – One of the new brigade. Doesn’t quite have the calm of Atkins but knows his rules, has grown a lot this year and deserves to step out of the pocket referee role more often.

Gavin Badger – Now, before you shoot me down, I know that Gavin is polarising. But he is important for the game.

He has personality, he backs his judgement and lets the game flow.

His communication with players in my opinion is the best in the league, he gets respect and treats the players with the respect he gets in return.

Not afraid to make a decision on his own.

NRL referee Henry Perenara

Those who should not be in the frame 

Henry Perenara – Now, before I start on Henry, I did my referee’s course with Henry and from day one, he came across as someone who he considered was superior to us mortals in the room, and he now referees like it.

The same day, Colin Best was on the same course. Now, I don’t know what happened, but Colin would have made a much better referee. =

And Luke Phillips who was the best of the 3 but due to issues with Tony Archer, quit the ranks.

I always imagined that former players would make great referees as they have that “feel” for the game. Henry blows that theory out of the water.

His refereeing is clunky, games don’t flow.

Penalties to teams who are gaining the ascendancy then stunt that team who deserve the advantage of a few “play on” calls without calling every penalty.

Ben Cummins – Ben has my utmost respect and 3 or 4 years ago, I considered him the best referee in the game.

His good games still appear but consistency is an issue. Ben also referees better alone.

In internationals, he is great. Pocket referees have seen the demise of Ben’s refereeing.

Anyone by the surname Sutton – Referees have never seen a boys club like the one we had with Tony Archer in charge and the one Bernard Sutton now oversees.

Good referees are not getting a shot because of it and State of Origin 3 was nearly ruined as a spectacle because of it.

NRL referee Jon Stone

I look forward to seeing which whistle blowers step up in the next 5 weeks.

Good luck to your team, may the best team win and the referees be the least of our worries.

“Play on”

The Rulebook

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