It has become abundantly clear that those in charge at NRL HQ are simply not going to enforce some rules.
No matter how often people like myself or ABC’s lead commentator Andrew Moore loudly point out our dismay, Tony Archer, Todd Greenberg and NRL football operations manager Nathan McGuirk will not do anything to make referees use the sin bin more frequently or to stop blue shirt trainers from on-field coaching.
These things have become so blindingly obvious that any team that doesn’t play accordingly is stupid.
As many of you would know I railed again, and again and again, and again, and again against sides deliberately giving away penalties and referees being too gutless to sin bin the repeat and cynical offenders.
Further, you’d also know that I’ve been amazed that coaches are fined under the NRL Operations Manual rules for not meeting Foxtel commitments but clubs with blue shirt trainers who blatantly flout the same rule book – like Allan Langer – have nothing happen to them at all.
However, while watching Michael Ennis play his low rent, grubby game last Sunday against the Raiders it suddenly dawned on me. Michael Ennis is actually a genius. He knows what wins and loses a football game. Further, he realises what you can get away with and what you can’t.
We can yell out in disbelief as he continually holds down tackled players, or milks penalties by holding tackling players on top of him, or deliberately starts a fracas when the opposition looks like getting advantage, or provokes a fight with a mouthful of abuse or a sneaky slap.
However, by doing those things he buys his defensive line precious time to reset and protect their try line. As I’ve examined before, a penalty is virtually no disincentive at all if there is no sin bin for repeat offenders. And for all intents and purposes there is no sin bin – unless you punch someone, and Ennis is far too smart to punch someone.
While I, and many others, have been engaging in the total futility of screaming about the rules being allowed to be broken, Ennis has just got on with playing to the limit of the rules. Michael Ennis knows that the limit is all about what is enforced, not what is written. Ennis is smart.
Never was this better highlighted than last Sunday against the insipid Raiders. Now, I strongly believe that the Raiders would have lost Sunday’s game regardless of whether Ennis and co had turned their grubbiness up to eleven or not (Ricky gave his players a big enough rocket for all of us).
However, when the Raiders were looking to get back into the game at 12-0 down the Sharks gave away nine penalties in an 18-minute period. The NRL average for a side, per game in 2016 is 7.4. The Sharks eclipsed that in less than a quarter of the game. They finished losing the penalty count 14-6 by my count. However, they won the game by 24 points.
Leading the way in that infraction assault was the grub himself, Ennis. You know when Cooper Cronk and Cam Smith call someone a grub – as they did on a breaker during NRL 360 on Tuesday night – then that dude has to be just appalling. Referee Gerard Sutton – whom I have previously lauded for his performance on Bad Friday 2015 – let the Sharks walk all over him and his team. After Fifita had given away an offside penalty somewhere in that run of nine, Sutton called out Gallen to warn him about the behaviour of Ennis and Fifita. The Sharks Captain then basically accused the referee of bias and victimisation.
“Can I say something? It seems like you’re looking for them (Ennis and Fifita).”
Well Paul, you’ve got to forgive Gerard for looking for Ennis and Fifita transgressing. Coming into that game they’d both individually conceded eight penalties each over six games. During the game they conceded three and two respectively and Ennis is now the worst offender in the NRL this year. He’s been in the top ten as long as I’ve been keeping the stats, and usually ends up in the top five each year.
Less than two minutes later when the Sharks gave away yet another penalty while defending their line Sutton yelled out, “next one!” to Gallen, signalling that the next offender was going to get ten in the bin.
Strangely enough there was no sin binning, in spite of the Sharks giving away another six after that hollow warning was issued.
Gallen and Ennis knew it wouldn’t happen either.
Ennis was awarded three Dally M votes for his performance in the game. Ennis is smart.
The numbers speak for themselves.
So far this season there have been 833 penalties conceded at 7.4 a game per team – up two penalties a game from 2015. Of those 833 penalties only six (0.7%) have merited a sin binning.
Only one of them (0.1%) has been for repeated transgressions.
• Round 2
BJ Leilua, Raiders – punching (Grant Atkins)
Sosia Feki, Sharks – holding down, try situation (Matt Cecchin)
Jordan McLean, Storm – multiple transgressions (Ash Klein)
• Round 4
Will Chambers, Storm – holding down, try situation (Matt Cecchin)
• Round 5
Josh Jackson, Dogs – offside, try situation (Ash Klein)
• Round 7
Richard Kenner, Storm – holding back, try situation (Ash Klein)
So, apart from Ash Klein and Matt Cecchin, the referees are too terrified to use the bin, no matter how justified it would be (unless it is for punching of course). This is most probably as a result of how Bill Harrigan got hung out to dry by the NRL back in 2002.
Hordes of us have called for the five-minute sin bin to be reinstated to try and remedy the bin shy referees. However, Todd Greenberg himself came out and said that the return of the five minute bin isn’t on the agenda.
Why not? Who the hell knows…
So it is clear, unless they are being refereed by Klein or Cecchin, players are letting their teams and their supporters down if they don’t follow Michael Ennis’ lead.
He might be a grubby player, but he’s nobody’s fool – and apparently a top bloke off the pitch.
So don’t hate the player, hate the game.
That sentiment also applies to the non-policing of the blue shirt trainers. A few weeks ago I pointed out that in the 82nd minute of the Broncos-Cowboys game that Allan Langer was caught on camera asking the ball boy to give him the ball, then handling the ball and then taking it to Broncos half back Ben Hunt.
The rules state that he can only run on the field to deliver messages and must leave immediately afterwards. Whereas nobody can prove – without an excellent and well-aimed directional microphone – that Langer is actually performing the illegal action of on-field coaching, the vision from that game unequivocally showed him breaking the rules.
I subsequently asked the following questions of the NRL.
“What fine/punishment – if any – is being considered for the Broncos as a result of Allan Langer’s actions while acting as the Broncos’ blue shirt trainer on Friday night?”
The response was as follows.
“Re: blue trainers, clubs can be warned if there is a breach. Fines would only be considered if there is a prior history.”
I then asked this follow up question:
“Have the Broncos been warned for the Langer breach from the 82nd minute of the match against the Cowboys?”
The response I received from the NRL this week was as follows:
“The matter was not part of the report by the manager of game day operations. No action was taken against the Broncos.”
So here is how it stands: Although Langer is indisputably seen to break the rules, the NRL is not taking action against the Broncos because there is no prior history. Further, there will still be no prior history as Langer’s blatant infraction was not reported and no warning was issued.
What has now become crystal clear to me is that the NRL could not give a rat’s ass about the trainers breaking the rules. They could not care less.
What has also become clear is that this is something that Wayne Bennett and Allan Langer had already worked out a long while ago.
Just like Michael Ennis is, they are smart.
If the other teams want to be as smart as them they need to get the best retired playmaker they can find and pay them what it takes to perform that valuable on-field coaching role.
As the trainer does not come under the salary cap, teams could even afford to hire the likes of Brad Fittler, Craig Gower, Andrew Johns, Brett Kimmorley, Brett Finch, Matt Orford, Scott Prince or Braith Anasta to run behind their team and tell them what to do.
It doesn’t matter about their dodgy knees or shoulders because they will no longer be tackled or run at. If by some bizarre happening the NRL tries to fine them for it, they can fight it in court and cite the Allan Langer precedent of Friday 25 March, 2016.
Further, why stop at the blue shirts? Why not get the likes of Kevin Campion, Wayne Pearce, Nathan Hindmarsh, Andrew Ryan, Steve Menzies, Nathan Hindmarsh, Alan Tongue, Luke O’Donnell or Danny Buderus in their club’s orange trainer role to run behind their team’s line and call the defence.
Imagine all the line breaks that could be prevented.
The smart person can clearly see that this is the way things are and any club which cares about winning needs to get on board immediately.
If they don’t then they are clearly stupid, unlike Michael Ennis and Alfie Langer who are bloody smart.