Obstruction rule clarified: now officially clear as mud
Manly Sea Eagles celebrate the try of Glenn Stewart. AAP Image/Dean Lewins
We have just received an announcement from the NRL referees boss (Bill Harrigan) that after a two and half hour meeting, the NRL was now confident the referees understand the obstruction rule.
Without questioning why we are in a position two weeks out from the finals where the referees need to be coached on how to police the game, the announcement today is nothing short of laughable.
As I argued in an article last week, the problem with the NRL rules is that they fail basic principles of clarity and enforcement.
To quote Bill Harrigan, this lack of clarity is apparently a necessary evil, ”It is very difficult to make this black and white because it is subjective and every play that you see is different,” Harrigan said.
”All we have to do is go through our check boxes…”.
So let’s check our boxes. The NRL has come out with the below laundry list of factors to be considered when enforcing the obstruction rule:
1. The decoy runner must not interfere with the defending team;
2. The ball runner cannot run behind his own team and gain an advantage;
3. A sweep player may receive the ball on the inside of a block runner as long as there is depth on the pass to him. If there is no depth, he needs to receive the ball on the outside of the block runner;
4. Defensive decisions that commit defenders to decoy runners will not be considered obstruction;
5. Attacking players who loiter next to the play-the-ball can be interpreted as obstructing the defending team;
6. If, in the process of scoring a try, an attacking player dives through or into the legs of the player who has played the ball, a penalty will be awarded to the defending team for obstruction; and
7. If in the opinion of the referee/video referee the play had no effect on the scoring of the try, it will be awarded.
Now I understand the idea of providing realistic examples of things to look at, but by providing seven factors to consider, the NRL has only further complicated what should be a simple consideration.
My simple rule for obstruction is as follows:
“A defensive player cannot be obstructed from making a tackle, or obstructed from maintaining their role in the defensive line, due to the presence of an offensive player”.
This simple rule can easily be applied in all of the above situations and if anything, it is clearer than vagueness of some of the above rules. For example, I can see paragraph 1 above leading to many arguments about whether a player was “interfered with”.
We see it all the time…a decoy runner bumps into a defender that is twenty metres away from the ball, but because the defender falls down, there are massive doubts over whether this contact caused the defensive line to falter.
According to my proposed rule, if a decoy runner stops a player from maintaining their role in the defensive line, then this is obstruction.
I think this rule is what is needed, because the onus on decoy runners should be to confuse defenders, not physically interfere with them.
Similarly, if a defender simply makes a bad read and the defender was not obstructed from maintaining their role in the defensive line, the decoy play was legitimate and the try is fair and square.
One only has to look at point three to see how unclear the interpretation for the rule is.
What is ‘depth’? Is it three metres from the defensive line, or five metres?
You can already see this issue of ‘depth’ being the next area where confusion reigns.
With my proposed and simple obstruction rule, the depth of the decoys and ball carrier would only be important is assessing fundamentally whether a defensive player was obstructed from making a tackle, or obstructed from maintaining their role in the defensive line, due to the presence of an offensive player”.
Finally, point six above has no place being part of the obstruction rule.
It should be its own rule, i.e. “An attacking player is not allowed to dive through or into the legs of the player who has played the ball”.
By merging this rule with the obstruction rule, the NRL have only further complicated an already troublesome area of the game.
Today’s announcement on the obstruction rule achieves nothing, other to clarify the dysfunctional nature of the NRL Rule Book.
In trying to explain every conceivable situation, the NRL rule makers are trying to provide the referees with a right answer.
Rather, the enforcement of rules will not always be right and there will always be occasions where both sides have an equally valid case.
I remember once saying to my mates that I thought I couldn’t tell what the right call was in a State of Origin a few years ago. I was told I was a fence sitter and of course there had to be a right answer.
There will be instances where the enforcement of a rule is a dead set 50/50 proposition. This cannot be avoided. But the issue is consistency and clarity of the rules.
At the moment, there is no clarity and no consistency. This is a recipe for disaster and with two rounds until the finals.
Most fans know the fortunes of their team will be party decided by the referee’s enforcement of a broken NRL Rule Book.
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