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My NRL set of seven

Josh Dugan heading to the Sharkies? (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
Roar Guru
9th April, 2016
18
1338 Reads

As per NRL rules, when the halfback kicks the ball dead the defending team gets a set of seven.

So here’s my set of seven, summing up the first few rounds of the NRL season.

1. Is Madge too one-dimensional?
Like most blokes, I enjoy watching an action movie every so often, especially when the lead character does some serious, well-choreographed arse-kicking.

And who doesn’t get a kick out of a lame one-liner thrown in by the hero just after he’s dispatched a bad guy.

Oh, and I kind of rate Jason Statham. He was solid as far back as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. However, he then became a Hollywood action star, appearing in over a dozen movies since he broke out.

And every single one of those films is exactly the same.

Change the actors, change the locale, change the names, change the studio – none of that matters – because each film is identical to the last.

A carbon copy of a carbon copy.

Which brings me to Rabbitohs coach, Michael McGuire. Is ‘Madge’ McGuire the NRL’s version of Jason Statham?

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He’s a good coach, solid at what he does. Heck, he even won a premiership for my Rabbitohs. But is Madge – like Jason Statham and vanilla ice-cream (and Vanilla Ice) – one-dimensional.

It’s a question that vexed me throughout 2015 and this vexation has continued in season 2016. Because no matter whom Souths play, the script always seems the same.

To paraphrase, change the opponent, change the home ground, change the run-on side, change the bench – none of that matters – because each game plan is identical to the last.

And like the scripts that are always the same, there is no Plan B.

2. Dugan’s dilemma
I must admit that when St George Illawarra picked up Josh Dugan, I wasn’t sure how he’d go long-term. For every bad-boy redeemed there have been others who continued to mess things up.

However, Josh Dugan has not only turned himself into arguably the Saints’ most important player, but one of the in-form fullbacks in the NRL.

It’s obvious that he works incredibly hard on his game and fitness, so he deserves praise for turning it all around. And while he doesn’t have the silky passing skills of other fullbacks like James Tedesco, or the sublime running style of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, he brings a lot to each and every game.

However, there is one thing that worries me about Josh.

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He is, in my view, the fiercest and most intimidating fullback in the comp. There are few if any backline first graders who throw their body into tackles with the intensity the he does.

There are few who put their body on the line as frequently to defuse a kick. Who run the ball back like a backrower as fearlessly to relieve pressure on their tired forwards.

So when he was doubled over with pain early in the match on Thursday night, and the commentators were sure he’d come off, I wasn’t surprised that he stayed on.

Because he has another attribute – he’s tough as they come.

But I worry about the bloke’s longevity. Very few backline players are pummelled and bashed and beaten and trampled as often as Josh Dugan appears to be.

While it’s brave that he keeps getting up and having another go, part of me hopes he tempers this so that he can keep his body in one piece and continue playing fullback for several years.

3. The NSW Blues captain
It’s often said that the second most powerful or important position in Australia is the Test cricket captain.

One of the key features of the Test cricket team is that the incumbent captain remains in that role from one season or series to the next. That has always worked favourably as being a member of the Test cricket team is effectively a full-time job.

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So, we nominate a captain and they appropriately retain that role for several years: my favourite, Allan Border, held the position for ten years, Mark Taylor for five Steve Waugh for five and Ponting for eight.

The NSW Blues captain is different, for State of Origin isn’t a full-time job – it’s a three-game series.

So, traditionally the Blues team is selected each year and the captain appointed from the top 13 (apart from one year when the captain strangely started off the bench, but let’s leave that one alone).

In the past, the incumbent captain has often been overlooked for another player, but nevertheless remains on the side – something that has occurred only a couple of times in the Test cricket team.

For example, Benny Elias had captained the Blues on six occasions before being replaced as captain by current coach Laurie Daley from the 1992 series, yet Elias remained a valuable part of the Blues squad for the another eight matches.

It was simply decided at the time that Daley was the better choice as captain from that point on.

Since then, the Blues have been captained by Brad Fittler, Geoff Toovey, Daley again, Fittler again, Andrew Johns, Danny Buderus, Kurt Gidley and most recently Paul Gallen, who has held the position since 2011, only being replaced by Robbie Farah in two matches due to injury.

During this period one thing appears to have changed.

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Where in the past we selected the first 17 and then chose the captain to lead them, the position of Blues captain appears to have morphed into a replica of the Australian Test cricket captain. The Blues captain is now a full-time role, which is retained without question from one year to the next.

Now my comment above is not about Paul Gallen. I actually like Gallen – I admire his reputation as one of the toughest and most powerful forwards in the game. He is a genuine leader.

What I wonder about though is whether this is the right approach. What works for a Test cricket team that is genuinely a full-time job, is not necessarily the right method for a Blues squad that is a casual position.

4. Blues selection process
Furthermore, another thing has changed over the past decade with Blues selection policies.

I have heard several former Blues, including Peter Sterling and Ryan Girdler, say that back in the day they didn’t know that they were selected until they received a call from the coach.

Nowadays, things are a bit different. Daley has a chat with the players – in many cases months before the series – letting them know they are in the squad or that they aren’t quite ready, as the case may be.

From what I understand, the theory is that if you let players know where they stand well ahead of the series, they’ll be free to play regular season matches without having to worry about their position.

I honestly wonder whether this approach works. It seems kind of touchy feely to me.

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Does letting a guy know ahead of time that he has a spot breed complacency? Does letting a guy know ahead of time that he doesn’t have a spot lead to despondency?

I’ve never played competitive sport – was just never good enough. But whenever players like Blake Austin, James Tedesco, Josh Mansour and Matt Moylan are told by the coach ahead of time that they “aren’t ready yet”, they must wonder what the heck they have to do to make the cut.

5. Stadium policy – solved
There are four main criticisms of building a brand new stadium near the Sydney Cricket Ground:

1. It will be too big and will rarely be filled
2. It’s not near Sydney’s big population base of Western Sydney
3. Transport around the Moore Park precinct is awful
4. Some supporters – such as those on the Insular Peninsular – won’t travel to the ground.

So I have come up with a solution.

We build a 30,000 seat Floating Stadium. Yeah, you read that correctly. A brand-spanking new stadium that floats.

My proposal is that the floating stadium is permanently moored on Sydney Harbour, where it will host Rabbitohs and Roosters matches.

Then when it hosts Sea Eagles matches, we hook a heap of tugboats to the stadium and tug it to Manly Beach. That way, Manly supporters will only have to travel five minutes to get to the game, so they’ll have no excuses.

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For St George matches, the tug boats would tow the stadium to Botany Bay or down to Wollongong Harbour, and for Parramatta matches we could tug the stadium up the Parramatta River.

It’s what I call in politician-speech the “All-Inclusive Non-Discriminatory Future-Proofed Let’s-Float-the-Idea-of-a-Floating-Stadium-Stadium Policy©”.

I think this idea has legs. Or fins.

6. Refereeing decisions – solved
Rugby league is a considerably faster sport than it was say 20 years ago. Players are bigger and stronger, matches are more intense and the focus of rule changes seems to be on continually speeding up the game.

Which is all OK I suppose, as this has arguably added a lot to the game.

However, one thing we can all agree on is that refereeing has struggled to keep up with this. The decision to move from one to two refs on field was largely to cope with this increased speed as it was deemed that one official couldn’t do it all.

More pertinently, the NRL’s solution to ongoing refereeing problems is to invest more and more into better, cutting-edge technology. But you can spend as much as you like on technology, it’s still at the mercy of the user, who is of course only human.

Now, I may be out on a limb here, but I feel that one possible solution is to have more officials on the ground. Not the refs though, but rather the touch judges.

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It seems to me that the role of touch judges have been well and truly neutered since say the 1980s or 1990s. Back in those days, the touchies had a more prominent role in determining rulings during game play, especially in providing direction to the ref on forward passes, whether a try was scored legally or foul play.

However, the speed of the game is so fast nowadays that touch judges more often than not have a limited role. How many times have you watched a match and thought, “how did the touchie miss that!” or “what are the touchies there for?”

I therefore believe it would be beneficial to have more touchies. More touch judges with a greater role and happily, less technology and fewer errors.

So, my solution to the ongoing refereeing problems is to have 100 touchies on each side-line, which equates to 200 touch judges in total for each and every match. Effectively, each touch judge would have their own one metre of space to adjudicate.

Oh, OK so that’s a bit over the top. But certainly, having a handful of additional touch judges and enhancing their role should help improve overall officiating and importantly take some pressure on the refs in the middle.

What do you think?

7. Say it ain’t so
Ever since Ray ‘Rabbits’ Warren announced he would be retiring, speculation has arisen over who would be his replacement at Channel Nine in 2017.

Every time I hear Ray Hadley commentate, like he did on Thursday night, I fear the worst.

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That is all for my set of seven.