Things they should bring back in rugby league but they won’t

Matt Cleary Columnist

By , Matt Cleary is a Roar Expert


82 Have your say

    Contested scrums. Hear me out.

    Were you to make scrums hard, tightly-bound bits of kit, beefed up with forwards schooled in scrummaging, and policed such that the halfback – or pocket ref or touch judge, what else do they do, etc – had to feed the ball straight into the middle of the tunnel, you’d give the team without the loose-head-and-feed a chance to get the ball back.

    And if you give a tightly-bound, tight-headed scrum a crack at The Precious, you would see greater adventure across the rugby league field.

    Again – hear me out.

    As it is there’s five hit-ups and a kick downtown out of danger. Making scrums contests would make the game more random and messy. And messy is good.

    Unscripted footy is top footy. Rugby league too often wants ‘clean’. Nice, crisp completed sets. Perfect refereeing. No dropping of the ball.

    But for the narrative of a game to have – what’s the term – unexpected tangents, you want messy.

    Sure – scrums from olden times were arcane, nasty bits of kit in which hookers scrapped for the pill like toothless pick-pockets from Elizabethan times. Sure.

    But scrums were never allowed to evolve, as everything else evolved, like passing, say, and the once-leather Steeden.

    And if scrums hadn’t been booted into the too-hard basket in favour of more ‘entertaining’, ball-in-hand rugby league, there wouldn’t be what we ironically have now: a highly-structured, over-coached game in which the attacking team barely passes the ball when 70 metres or less from their try-line.

    Ben Creagh packs down in the second row

    (Digital image by Colin Whelan ©

    The knock-back
    Rugby league’s laws say that a knock-on is to propel the ball “towards the opponents’ dead ball line with hand or arm”.

    This means (or should mean) that were you standing with a foot either side of the halfway-line and facing the sideline – for example, at 90 degrees and perfectly perpendicular to the sideline – carrying the ball in two hands, and you dropped it straight down between your feet, then that’s not a knock-on.

    You are allowed to drop the ball, as long as it doesn’t travel forwards towards your opponents’ line.

    If the ball doesn’t travel forwards – as it doesn’t if you’re undertaking the scientific stand-on-the-halfway-facing-the-sideline-and-drop-the-ball-straight-down exercise – it is not a knock-on.

    Yet every week, in rugby league’s Quest for Clean, drop-ball is deemed messy ball, and hence unclean, and needs to be punished. It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.

    3pm kick-offs
    As far as stakeholders go, the God of TV holds the biggest stakes.

    Television owns 50-foot stakes that they’re not afraid to plunge into the heart of rugby league.

    No they don’t. Television’s grouse! It’s how you watch rugby league! Top stuff, Television.

    But day-time footy is not great for TV, so there aren’t a lot of games on.

    But for being there, from 3pm to about 4:46pm is the best time to watch rugby league.

    For one, it’s the best time for the best rugby league. Conditions are most often best.

    And two, you can have a nice long lunch, couple schooners and watch the game in choice conditions. By 5pm you’re back in the pub.

    And from there, given it’s a Saturday, the world is your delicious Kilpatrick and/or mornay oyster.

    Five metre gap
    Maybe not five. Maybe seven. But the gap we have, ten metres… it was good in the early nineties because Bill Harrigan was praised for getting them way back and there was more adventurous rugby league. And people said, Yes, Bill’s way is The Good Way.

    And for a while it was true.

    But no more.

    Now the massive, legislated gap between defenders and ruck means to gain advantage on the aptly-named advantage line defenders have to wrestle like Russians to stop the other mob from getting quick play-the-ball and hence the dreaded “roll on”.

    So, six or seven metres. Give it a go. Trial it in the 20s, the bush. Prove it bad.

    Zero interchange
    To para-phrase Ian Healy’s comment to Arjuna Ranatunga, players shouldn’t be allowed a legislated break in the middle of a game because they’re tired.

    You’re off, you’re off.

    Head bin? Sure.

    Tired? Come on.

    Rugby league probably shouldn’t look over the fence too often at ol’ cousin Rah-rah, lest some fool think we should have contested scrums again.

    But in terms of interchange, rugby has it right. Blokes go off. New blokes come on. And that’s just it.

    Andrew Fifita is tackled

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    True, they are not very good at rugby league. In fact Poland is better at cricket than France is at rugby league. But, I dunno… there’s something about playing rugby league against France.

    The tri-colours, the blue jumpers. The rooster. Using Le instead of The. Le Bleus. All that. It’s sort of exotic.

    The Biff
    Jokes! Just jokes.

    ‘The biff’ – by which I mean punching a person in the head with the knuckles of one’s bare fists – can stay where it is, locked in blood-knuckled knuckle-head land, in the Time of Ago, when violence, even domestic violence, was cool and the gang.

    Oh, you’d still like to see some ‘good old days’ biff?

    Do this: Give yourself an upppercut. Record it on your phone. Upload it to YouTube. And watch it, a lot.

    The KB Cup
    A midweek knock-out rugby league competition at Leichhardt Oval under lights featuring Port Moresby, Combined Brisbane and a team of mad bastards from the bush who won the first one in 1974 led by a wild bald man called ‘TV Ted’ Ellery?

    Never happen. Be good if it did.

    Matt Cleary
    Matt Cleary

    Matt Cleary is a sports writer from Sydney. He enjoys golf, footy and Four Pines Pale Ale, and spends as much time as conscience allows at Long Reef GC. Tweet him @journomatcleary, or read him at his website.

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