Paul Kent is a seasoned and respected journalist, but I couldn’t let his recent article, “NRL a distant second to soaring Swans”, go by without responding to some of his criticisms about the NRL and its product.
The AFL grand final was a cracker of a game, from what I heard. I’m happy to concede that the NRL’s GF was not one of the best we’ve seen, although it didn’t lack for tension or intensity.
However, one game is not a sample size from which to draw any conclusions, let alone some of those found in Mr. Kent’s recent article.
It states that the NRL has “serious problems in its game”, that once “a team establishes dominance under current NRL rules, they win the game”, and that the Bulldogs “did everything they could have been asked to do but got no reward for their effort”.
I’m confident that Des Hasler and his players don’t agree. While Melbourne created discomfort for Canterbury with its pressuring defence, the Dogs players never fell into a rhythm in the game.
Regarding the current rules, the article goes on to say that winning scrums against the feed, raking in the play-the-ball and stealing the ball are “discouraged or illegal” in the modern game, and that the “opposition can’t get a crack with the ball”, making it impossible to win if the other team “establishes dominance”.
First and most obvious point, it’s a six-tackle game. You are going to get your chance with the ball. Very rarely do teams have as much success with grubbers into the in-goal as Melbourne had in the GF. And if they do they deserve to dominate.
Possession tends to even out; one of the reasons why the NRL features so few blowouts, certainly in comparison with the AFL.
Second, one of the reasons rugby league has turned into such a fast, open, clean and skillful game is because most of the grubby, grinding fights for possession have been removed – strips, rakes, rucks, contested scrums, even the old five-metre rule. Players like Ben Barba and Billy Slater have much to be grateful for, as does the fan.
Finally, the idea that NRL games do not swing wildly is simply inaccurate. This season featured more last-second thrillers than any in history – four in which the “dominated” team scored twice in the last seven minutes or less to win.
Games may have been easier to pick in 1980. That is far from the truth now, thanks to the speed and creativity of the men who play them.
I’m happy for the Swans, but it doesn’t take away from the outstanding shape our game is in as we look ahead to 2013.