NRL to put more stoppages in the game? Give me a break!

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Manu Vatuvei was in sensational form against Samoa. AAP Image/Action Photographics, Wayne Drought

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It’s always gratifying when a sport that you love embraces modernity and gets with the times, ushering in a new era based on a recognition that stagnation is death, and that progress is vital for any game to thrive.

For example, rugby union commendably went professional back in the 1990s, allowing the game to grow and become a greater spectacle for all, while also providing players with the security they needed to stay in the game long-term.

Likewise, cricket accepted that the future was here by introducing one-day cricket, then coloured clothing, then Twenty20 cricket. Most recently it has allowed technology to be used that ensures that umpiring decisions are as correct as possible, unless India don’t like it.

And, of course, the very advent of the “unless India doesn’t like it” rule of international cricket administration indicates the sport’s commitment to welcoming the modern age.

Rugby league, of course, has always been in the vanguard of progressiveness. The leagues came up with the idea of poaching other codes’ players long before rugby and AFL got on board.

It invented the idea of a sad, laughable Gold Coast franchise back in the 80s, the model of which the A-League has followed to the letter.

And it is rugby league that has always been pro-active in ensuring the games themselves remained exciting and relevant. It was rugby league that, recognising that scrums involved an unacceptable level of unpredictability in the game, turned them into uncontested jokes for the sake of the fans.

Likewise with rules on striking in the play-the-ball and stripping the ball, rugby league administrators have worked tirelessly to eliminate messy contested-ball situations from the sport so that spectators are never made to feel uncomfortable by unexpected events.

Not content to rest on its laurels, it was the NRL that recognised how much fans loathe draws, and that what they prefer is for games to be decided by field goal shootouts. They therefore introduced the marvelous golden-point system.

Nobody could ever accuse rugby league of failing to stay ahead of the pack when it comes to innovation, and it looks like that’s a trend that’s unlikely to stop any time soon, with the news that the NRL is looking for ways to increase stoppages in rugby league games in order to maximise advertising revenue.

I am sure I speak for all of league fandom when I say I could not be more excited about this development.

Not only will the advertising revenue allow players to be paid much, much more – putting paid to the problems of impoverished NRL stars, and stopping the constant raids on league ranks by cashed-up rival codes looking to replicate the spectacular success stories of Karmichael Hunt and Wendell Sailor – but it will introduce a lovely rhythm to the average NRL match.

With more breaks, the viewer will have more time to relax, more time to reflect, more opportunities to duck into the next room for a biscuit.

The relentless pace and action of a rugby league game will no more cause ulcers and shortness of breath; we can always be secure in the knowledge that no matter how frantic and non-stop things are right now, within a minute or two there will be a corporate-mandated rest period and we can all have a bit of R and R.

Won’t that be a relief?

How many times during a State of Origin match have we all said, “Goodness, this is exciting, but I wish they’d slow it all down a bit, I don’t think my old ticker can take it?”

How many times have we bemoaned the mad rush to take penalty kicks and conversions? “Slow down!” we cry. “This isn’t a race, take your time, your haste is most unseemly!”

Wouldn’t it be a relief, to be able to kick back and read some of your book while waiting for a line dropout to be taken? That’s the whole trouble with modern sport: it allows so little time for indulging one’s hobbies during play.

As for fans at the ground (assuming fans still go to the ground to watch rugby league?) – their experience will be the most thrilling of all, waiting for the signal that the commercial break is over so that play can start again, counting down to the end of the ad.

Perhaps the ads themselves can be played on the big screen during the breaks, finally introducing a real living-room atmosphere to the sometimes sterile and detached experience of live sport.

This is what I like to call a win-win-win-win situation. Sport lovers have been crying out for years for more commercialism within the on-field action, and leave it to the NRL to deliver. As always, rugby league is the pioneer.

The only way it could possibly be more satisfying for the fans is if it were specified that 50% of all ads must be for bookmakers.

Then we’d finally have truly realised the dream of JJ Giltinan.

Ben Pobjie is a writer & comedian writing on The Age, New Matilda and The Roar, whose promising rugby career was tragically cut short. The most he has ever cried was the day Balmain lost the 1989 grand final. Today he enjoys watching Wallabies, Swans, baggy greens, and Storms.
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