In rugby league, as in life, everybody has a beef about something.
Could be flat passes being called forward.
Could be on-field referees who seem to send every bit of try-line action upstairs “for a look”.
There are still those who, like Don Quixote charging off to fight windmills, rail against the soft joke that is the modern scrum.
And there are those, like myself, who believe – indeed know – that referees, on 50/50 calls for strip or knock-on, will rule depending upon the state of the game and how it might affect the result, and thus how their performance will be evaluated in media, coach’s report, and later analysis by peers.
And I know that because a referee told me. And we will set his quotes free one day, oh yes, when the time, and price, is right.
For now, however, we will talk of the Friday night fixture between Bulldogs and Sea Eagles in which several typically vexed things happened.
Now, one of the major talking points, for sure, will be Ashley Klein sending Josh Reynolds’ first extra-time match-winning “try” upstairs to be forensically-examined by Stevie Wonder and Helen Keller who were well into their second flagon of Royal Reserve Brown Muscat.
We could have talked about that, no doubt.
Yet it was a moment in the 66th minute that got my billy-goat.
Ironically it was something the video box guys got right.
But rugby league got it wrong.
It was Jorge Taufua’s double-movement.
Remember it? Scores tied 16-all. Manly attacking the left flank before Jorge rumbles through a tackle and lands bare inches from the line. Inches. And there, tackled but not held, he sees in front of him that glistening white stripe.
And what does he do? You know what he does.
He places the football over the white line as is his job as wing man of rugby league. That’s the entire game’s point – put the ball over the line. And Jorge’s done it 60 times in 97 games.
And Jorge did it again.
And upstairs we went as we always do and fair cop Helen and Stevie, after a good scull from that fat silver goon-bag, they had a decision and were going to the board. And there it was, as expected – “No Try”.
And that was fair enough. To the letter of the law, it was double-movement every day of the week. You can’t fault the officials there.
But you can fault the law.
Because it’s an ass! It’s a stupid law. They should brush it and it would be better for rugby league. There would be more tries. Everyone likes tries.
Yes – it’s been around forever. And sure, rugby league probably has bigger things on its plate now that there’s a $5 billion bunker run by ego-driven sticklers and pedants drunk on power (and brown muscat) who are changing rugby league as we knew it.
Yes – there are those things.
But double-movement! The law is an ass!
Why, if the referee hasn’t called ‘held’, can’t a player just reach out and score the try, even if his ball-carrying arm has touched the ground?
I asked Graeme Annesley about it a while ago, in fact it was ten years ago almost to the day.
Remember Graeme? Used to be the NRL’s General Manager of Football, or something, he was under David Gallop and one of the go-to men when rugby league’s latest “direction” needed explaining.
And Graeme could explain for Australia. No wonder he had a stint in politics. He could articulate, spin and toe a party line with the very best.
So I asked Graeme about double-movement. I said surely it’s natural for a player to reach out and touch the line with the ball, if the line is right there in front of them.
And Graeme said: “The rule is that when the ball-carrying arm has hit the ground, you can’t extend that arm.”
And I said, yes I know the rule. But why, as old mate the professor on the chocolate advertisements would ask, is it so?
“Because there has to be a delineation between when a player is tackled and when the ball is ‘live’, if you like, and in play.”
And I said: “Shouldn’t that be when the ref calls ‘held’?”
And Graeme said: “No.”
And here we are.
Now, I didn’t think then and I don’t think now that double-movement even needs to be a rule.
I think that when you are near the line, and you aren’t called as held, then you should be able to place the ball on the line because that’s the natural thing to do. It’s just there in front of me.
The un-natural thing to do is tuck your arm into your chest and not reach out and score the try.
Scoring tries is what footy players are meant to do. And it’s defenders job to stop them. And they should try to stop them, until the ref calls ‘held’.
If after the ref calls ‘held’ and old mate reaches out and puts the ball over the line, that would be a penalty, essentially for incorrect play-the-ball.
Now, you may think I’m off chops and that there’s bigger fish to fry. But by God man, did you not see the Reynolds’ thing in which Klein sent some perfectly good rugby league upstairs for a look to see if the perfectly good rugby league hadn’t contravened any of the eight million rules the game seems to now have and which are only applied when there is a possible try?
And you may have a case.
But double-movement is a dud rule and should be dispensed with and the rule made like rugby union’s in which once you’re tackled you can place the ball any way you like be it backwards for your fellow man or forwards for the honey.
Again you may think I’m off chops offering up rugby bloody union as a salve for a perceived ill in this greatest game of all rugby league.
Why does that game not literally have eight million laws that no-one knows how they may be adjudicated any given week?
Answer: Perhaps, yes, it does. But unlike league, union, for the most part, just gets on with it. Players, pundits and punters acknowledge that it’s rather silly in that respect, but there it is. We need not rail against it, it’s just how things are, aren’t we a funny mob, more top-shelf please, ho ho.
But rugby league? It rails baby. And if rugby league finds a scrum or corner flag or six-tackle-set-from-a-kick-dead-in-goal it doesn’t like, then that thing is gone baby gone.
And yet we still have double-movement. And we still have Jorge Taufua penalised for doing what comes naturally.
And it seems to be, like the poor old eunuch that is the modern-day scrum, accepted. Bit silly, perhaps. But the game has bigger fish to fry.
And here we are. No closer to those windmills.