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

Matt Cleary Columnist

By Matt Cleary, 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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    The Crowd Says (82)

    • Roar Guru

      August 18th 2017 @ 7:44am
      M.O.C. said | August 18th 2017 @ 7:44am | ! Report

      I think a team should learn how to pack a scrum properly (union-style) and at scrum-time, pack properly, low and tightly-bound and then wait for the opposition to pack. If the opposition refuse to pack the same way they should get penalised and if they do attempt to pack properly, push them off the ball. I would put cash on it that the refs would stop them and make them pack “properly” (standing up, not bound, not pushing).

    • August 18th 2017 @ 7:54am
      Duncan Smith said | August 18th 2017 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      I think they should bring back the unlimited tackle rule. This would eliminate passing, kicking, and scrums from the game and bring back a bash and barge style that would allow the Canterbury-Bankstown Berries to once more compete in finals.

      • Roar Guru

        August 18th 2017 @ 8:29am
        BigJ said | August 18th 2017 @ 8:29am | ! Report

        No it would not Dogs suck. While not just allow them to carry around crowbars under thier jerseys. They might as well dogs get away with everything else.

    • Roar Rookie

      August 18th 2017 @ 8:06am
      Don said | August 18th 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      I’d be happy to see the rake by the marker in the play the ball returned.
      It was a low percentage play given it gave the opposition 6 more tackles if you got it wrong. But executed well, it could completely change momentum.
      Ian Roberts was expert at it.

      And it might even get people playing the ball properly with the risk of having it raked out.

      • Roar Guru

        August 18th 2017 @ 10:23am
        Con Scortis said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        Love it Don

      • August 18th 2017 @ 11:25am
        Boz said | August 18th 2017 @ 11:25am | ! Report

        Yes Don, absolutely!

      • August 18th 2017 @ 1:21pm
        beachart said | August 18th 2017 @ 1:21pm | ! Report


      • August 18th 2017 @ 3:58pm
        SewingMachine said | August 18th 2017 @ 3:58pm | ! Report

        Great call Don!

      • August 18th 2017 @ 10:38pm
        Chris Love said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:38pm | ! Report

        That was the first one on my list when I saw the tittle. Followed by bound scrums.

      • August 18th 2017 @ 10:38pm
        Chris Love said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:38pm | ! Report

        That was the first one on my list when I saw the tittle. Followed by bound scrums.

    • Roar Rookie

      August 18th 2017 @ 8:11am
      cinque said | August 18th 2017 @ 8:11am | ! Report

      Sure, the League scrum is a farce but a Union scrum is equally farcical. Prefer a 30 second farce to a 3 minute one.

      • August 18th 2017 @ 8:41am
        Womblat said | August 18th 2017 @ 8:41am | ! Report

        Utterly true. And how many Union scrums go against the feed? Zero. It’s the same dog with slower fleas.

        And about as exciting for the crowd as an amateur chess contest.

        Unlimited tackle is interesting. Hadn’t thought of that one. A retro step, but I wonder what the result would be? Probably a retro result… St George winning 11 on the trot on the back of a rhinoceros forward pack!

      • August 18th 2017 @ 8:42am
        Taurangaboy said | August 18th 2017 @ 8:42am | ! Report

        I agree with you on the scrum, cinque. Watching a ‘proper’ scrum for 3 minutes in Union is boring. Leave it how it is or abolish it complexly. But I agree with Mr Cleary about dropped balls continually being adjudged ‘knock-ons’ by the refs. Very annoying. Commentators just brush it over and don’t question it. Unless it goes FORWARD it should be ‘play on’.

        • Roar Guru

          August 18th 2017 @ 9:24am
          Adam said | August 18th 2017 @ 9:24am | ! Report

          I know I’m biased because I’m a huge union fan. But the scrum actually adds another element to a contest. Especially when a team gets on top they can use scrums for a huge advantage

          • Roar Guru

            August 18th 2017 @ 10:42am
            M.O.C. said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

            I agree Adam, unfortunately most Aussie Roarers have probably only watched Wallaby scrums! – get two good scrummaging countries against each other and it can be great. A relatively poor scrummaging team like the Wallabies tend to try all the tricks to get penalties which leads to collapses etc and a boring game. Watch Pumas vs Italy scrummage – awesome.

            • Roar Rookie

              August 18th 2017 @ 12:35pm
              Don said | August 18th 2017 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

              A dominant scrum with the number 8 expertly keeping it at his feet on the way to the line for a pushover try is a thing of beauty to this Rugby fan.

    • August 18th 2017 @ 8:40am
      hutch said | August 18th 2017 @ 8:40am | ! Report

      Would prefer if they got rid of scrums altogether. Union ones are boring and predictable as well, they just take them seriously.

      Knock ons, abolaurely. Agree with this point. Dropping the ball is not a knock on.

      3pm kickoffs, most definitely. Anything to get rid of Thursday night and Friday 6pm games. No game should kick off later than 7.30 at night either. Why don’t the nrl want crosss to grow and to take control of their game?

      5 metre gall – don’t see the problem with 10.

      Internchanges are a part of the game, would like to see it down to 6 though.

      France are a lot better at rugby league than Poland are at cricket. The have 2 professional teams in the uk system and are looking at a third and also have a lot of players now playing at English clubs. They will surprise at this years RLWC.

      I miss the biff! Maybe it won’t come back but sin bin for pushing or defending yourself is over the top imo.

      And I don’t think we will ever see a return of the mid week cup, but would love stand alone weekends for more rep games and tests!

      Just my two cents!

    • August 18th 2017 @ 9:07am
      Duncan Smith said | August 18th 2017 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      Perhaps we can learn from our rugby union cousins. A typical 80 minute rugby game consists of:

      Scrums and scrum resets – 28 mins
      Shots at penalty goal – 31 mins
      ‘Pick and drive’ slow surges – 14 mins
      Free running play – 7 mins

      Let’s get more of that in the NRL by bring back contested scrums and unlimited tackles. That’ll fill ANZ stadium.

      • August 18th 2017 @ 2:48pm
        Jimmmy said | August 18th 2017 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

        Oh , Duncan finally someone who knows the truth. Union is on its knees in this country so yeah jump on and follow it over the cliff.
        Contested scums ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!
        Penalties , resets ,boredom and still no scrums won against the feed . Lord , please,deliver me from the idea of contested scrums . It causes murderous thoughts in me.

        • August 19th 2017 @ 4:32am
          Yoda said | August 19th 2017 @ 4:32am | ! Report

          Your funny you jimmmmmmmmmyyyyyy, haaaaaaaaaaaaaa!