NRL’s rules are a legal quagmire
The NRL rules are like any codified legal system. Although I don’t want to bore readers with a legal diatribe about what makes good law, some basic analysis of legal principles is vital to understand what is so wrong with the NRL Rules.
Fundamentally, there are three legal principles that highlight where the NRL rules fail dismally:
1). Publication of the laws.
2). Ability to challenge the enforcement of the laws.
3). Clarity of the laws.
Problem 1: Publication of the laws
Firstly, a common legal principle is that the laws should be known. You cannot follow laws that you are unaware of. As a rugby league fan that is angry with the constant barrage of bad refereeing decisions, I decided to read the rule book to make sure I understood the more contentious rules in the NRL.
Although the players may be given a good lesson in the rules, your average fan does not know the finer interpretational issues – despite what they slur in the stands after a few too many beers.
But there is a problem with finding the rules – it’s nearly impossible!
Maybe some of you have been given a copy of them for your refereeing course or maybe some of you are NRL insiders, but for your average NRL fan (club member!) that turns up each week to watch their team play, the rules are just a mythical and mysterious document that no-one has ever actually seen.
I looked on Google, NRL.com and a host of other forums and website related to the NRL. Everyone swears they have a PDF somewhere – but I still haven’t seen it and cannot find it.
In this day and age, the NRL Rules 2012 should be made clearly available on NRL.com. The referee boss, when defending their referees against criticisms should be able to refer to the specific provision of the rule book that justifies the decision made.
Diehard fans should be able to have a copy of the rules sitting on their book shelf and able to pull it out whenever there is a moment like in Game 1 of Origin this year (Inglis’ dubious try).
Instead, we are given snippets of the rules and key changes to the rules. But give me a copy of the damn rule book…please!
Problem 2: Ability to challenge the enforcement of the laws
If you are charged with an offence in Australia, you afforded various legal rights to ensure you are not the victim of an injustice. These checks and balances are not perfect, but the concept is admirable. Not so with the application of the NRL rules. The players are faced with nothing short of a tyranny, with the NRL referees playing the role of a whistle blowing dictator.
The closest thing the players can do to challenge a ruling is to complain to the referee whilst on the run during the game.
There is no clear system for this process, with the referee deciding when he should hear a complaint and when he should dismiss a complaint. As a result, the referees are ridiculously inconsistent in their willingness to discuss their decisions with certain players.
A player like Cam Smith is sometimes able to engage in a 30 second discussion, whereas a stand in captain will often be told to go away like he is a whining 10-year-old child.
This actually affects the application of the rules. Some referee are easily swayed and a player like Cam Smith can occasionally influence the referee into giving his team slack in a certain area of the game
As for coaches, they are not allowed to say certain things at press conferences and if they do bring the integrity of the referee into question, they run the risk of being fined $10,000.
Fans – don’t even start… the best we can do is boo at the top of our lungs and feel as if occasionally, we might have pressured the ref to blow their whistle in our team’s favour!
Bring in the challenge system. I know it has been said before but for some reason it is never trialled. Not even in a “trial” match!
The mechanics of a challenge system would be up for debate, but a basic system where each team are allowed three unsuccessful challenges to a decision a game. If your challenge is successful, you do not lose that challenge.
The challenge can only be used by the nominated captain of each team and can only be used when there is a stoppage in play (scrum, penalty, try or ball goes out).
It seems we are so concerned with not adopting the NFL style approach to refereeing, that we have failed to adopt this sensible policy. The reason this policy is sensible is that 9 times out of 10, when there is a bad call, the players on the spot know what the right call is and a challenge system would sort out theatrics and milking that goes on. It would also lessen the need to go to the video ref and, ironically, it would speed up the game.
It will happen, mark my words. The sooner we embrace the challenge system, the better!
Problem 3: Clarity of the laws
A good law is clear and easy to follow. There is no room for argument. You either broke it or you didn’t. The speed limit is a good example. If you are going 90km in an 80km zone, it may annoy you to get fined – but really, you broke the law and should pay the consequences.
The worst NRL rules are the ones where the application of the rule is unclear that the outcome is destined to be inconsistent. There are numerous examples of this (double movement, striping rule etc…) but one area of the laws of the game in desperate need for reform is forward pass rule.
With the flat pass now the attacking weapon of choice for many teams, this rule is being pushed to the limit and sadly, the rules of the game are useless.
I don’t have the actual wording of the forward pass rule (as it is not made easily available to use mere mortals – as discussed above), but the commentators have explained that as long as “the ball leaves the hand backwards, it is allowed to float forward”.
The rationale behind this law being brought into affect is clear enough and sensible at face value. There may be occasions where the momentum of the passing player or the wind means that a pass that left the players hands backwards, ends up drifting forwards to the receiver. On these occasions, the pass is deemed not be a forward pass.
Although the intention of this rule is clear, the application of the rule has proven extremely problematic. The application of the rule is actually so difficult that it has been deemed impossible for video referees to rule on a forward pass.
That in itself should show people what is wrong. If a video replay is unable to show if a pass went backwards, then what chance do our inept touch judges stand? If a rule is that hard to accurately enforce, then it is a dud rule and must be changed (regardless of the admirable intent).
The rule should be simplified so that it can be challenged. Basically, the rule should be that the pass must be received behind where the passer of the ball released their pass.
Therefore, if an attacking player passes the ball on the 10m line and it is received by their team mate 9m out, then it is a forward pass as it has gone forward by a metre. Who cares if it was the wind, or momentum or the fairy godmother that made the ball travel forward.
A forward pass should be determined by inserting a digital line parallel to the try line. If the ball travels flat or backwards in relation to this line, then it is ok, if it drifts forward compared to that line – too bad, it is deemed a forward pass.
The players would simply react to this and make sure the receiver is not in front of where the ball was passed from. This would result in deeper play and perhaps less tries. But the rule would be a lot easier to enforce and would be challengeable. A clear law is a good law!
I know the above thoughts will be bitterly opposed by many. But the problems of the NRL rules and their application are ruining the game. It is very likely a Grand Final will be decided by a poor refereeing decision.
We cannot expect perfection and there always be bad calls. But the best we can do is make sure we have a system of rules that is well known by all involved in the game, can be challenged on rare occasions by the players that are in a position to know what actually occurred and where the rules are able to be applied consistently.