While rugby league fans try to keep their heads above water in a weekend of wet weather footy, it’s time to proffer a long-contemplated idea.
It’s a concept to make the game more attractive not only for those moments when the surface is slippery but also for those fixtures where for whatever reason
everyone suddenly has a case of the dropsies.
Here it is: attacking teams should not be able to regather their own knock-ons.
I know it’s a left-field notion and would need some solid road-testing, but hear me out on the basis.
This is something I first put to former Queensland rugby league coaching director Dennis Ward 15 years ago over a Monday morning cup of tea.
We were talking about a range of junior and amateur games we’d watched the previous weekend – all games littered by a heap of dropped ball – and although some of those contests were hard to watch, others were genuinely entertaining.
I proposed to the former Australian halfback that handling errors do not necessarily ruin a game, but it’s the flow of the game from that point onward that decides its entertainment value.
If a scrum is packed or the attacking team kicks the spilt ball away or dives on it before slowly surrendering possession, sure it’s torturous to watch, especially if you get three or four sets in a row of the same.
But take a sequence of handling errors in a game where the opposing team regathers and possession changes quickly and it makes for furiously fast action.
You barely get a chance to bemoan the fact everyone has turned into a butterfingers, because you’re too busy watching the end-to-end movement.
That was the case early in last night’s game at Suncorp Stadium before the Broncos ran away with it 36-0.
For the first quarter of the game both teams were coughing up the ball regularly as they adjusted to the conditions, but most often the pill was bouncing into the arms of someone headed in the opposite direction at pace.
It wasn’t classic footy, but it was dynamic, jolting and rapid – qualities rugby league is built upon.
Rulemakers gave us the 10-metre onside rule, shot clocks, the option of a quick tap and the chance at a 40-20 because rugby league at its roots is about accelerating momentum, shifting momentum and encouraging impact.
Allowing an attacking player to sullenly flop on a ball after they’ve dropped it is none of these things – it’s the sporting equivalent of throwing a damp rug over a fire.
My basic proposal is that once an attacking player knocks the ball on, they must allow the opposing team to regather for a zero tackle. The teammates of the person who knocked the ball on would have to retreat behind said person to be onside.
Of course there’d be moments in a game where a fullback spills a kick return and must regather to save a certain try, or a forward rucking the ball off his line commits a similar misdeed.
Under my proposal it would be a penalty rather than a drawn-out transfer of possession via an uncontested scrum if they regathered, because we want as many moments as possible to be contested and force decisions.
If a player knocks on in his red zone, he would have a split second to decide whether he backs his team to defend for six tackles or he regathers and gives up a penalty.
Moments before halftime last night we saw one instance where this could have been applied: a Jordan Rankin knock-on and regather under the pressure of an encroaching kick-chase.
Although the Broncos ended up scoring from the next set to keep the home fans happy, it was almost anti-climatic because of the halt in play to set a scrum and the structured play that ensued.
If Rankin was forced to chance his arm and allow the Broncos to pick up the ball, we would have seen a try that was much more fluid, a desperate hold-out set in defence by the Tigers or a debate over the merits of a tactically-conceded penalty.
Like everything, I’m sure there are ways this could be exploited or that there are technical aspects that would need resolving, but I’m keen to hear what others think of the scenario and any alternative ideas you have to keep the game moving quickly.
Just don’t do what Dennis did all those years back when I first suggested it: give me a deep stare through your glasses and back away while dunking a scotch finger biscuit, leaving me wondering to this day whether it was the notion of a crazed man or if I’m onto something.