Innovation in Rugby League wins Premierships. Daring to bring in new techniques and break new ground can be risky for NRL clubs, but the rewards are well worth it.

As the NRL officials and heavyweights gather tomorrow for a thinktank around the game for 2008; the grapple tackle is high on the agenda and is reported to be outlawed even further after getting plenty of headlines in 2007.

Regardless of what you think of the grapple tackle, the initial development and further refinement by Craig Bellamy and his Melbourne Storm group was ground breaking. Employing wrestling coaches and squeezing every advantage from the ruck had rival clubs clammering to keep up. Other clubs complained, cried foul and did everything they could to prevent the dominant Storm getting further ahead.

Instead of complaining, rivals should have been researching and developing the next trend.

As 2008 approaches, clubs that can adapt and derive advantages from somewhere in the game will win the comp.

Evolution has been interesting to watch in the Rugby League, even in the gladiatorial days of the 80’s – the likes of Warren Ryan developing the bombing raids and forcing rule changes around bomb defusion and Jack Gibson pioneering wedge plays and run arounds – each year was seeing teams pull something new out of the bag.

More recently we saw Brian Smith develop skin tight jerseys for his Parramatta Eels team in the late 90’s and move that was quickly followed by Penrith and other NRL clubs and in 2003 John Lang tasted victory after blooding big bookend props that ran straight and hard – tearing through opposition sides that went for skills based forwards and men that were smaller in stature.

As quickly as the success came, in 2004 big bopper props were out of fashion. With quicker play the balls needed, the Penrith side suddenly lost out and became followers as their props were suddenly too big and slow. First designed in 2002, another item on the increase in 2004 was the ‘gang tackling’ technique designed by Roosters boss Ricky Stuart – getting big numbers into tackles and slowing play the balls down heavily, giving his defence plenty of time to set itself. It was a move that worked well and kept the Roosters in the top batch of NRL teams.

Moving into 2005, it was all about speed. The Wests Tigers with a tiny forward pack started playing ‘touch football’. Their goal was simple, throw themselves into tackles and find the ground quickly. By submitting, their small forwards would nullify the gang-tackle and generate lightning fast game speed – allowing their impressive backline of Benji Marshall, Pat Richards and Brett Hodgson wreak havoc on the enemy.

Fast forward to current day. As the Storm enjoy their Rugby League triumph, you can bet Craig Bellamy and his crew are already discussing possible trends for 2008. Maybe other clubs should quit all the complaining and focus their energies into pioneering not constant crying. Who knows, some homework just might win them the NRL Premiership.

By ricky

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