The NRL is within a ref’s whistle of the ultimate ride

Jason Hosken Roar Guru

By Jason Hosken, Jason Hosken is a Roar Guru


35 Have your say

    Waxheads with years of salty repute reckon the quest for the perfect ride never ends. It’s why they keep suiting up, just like the thirsty and desperate hypnotised by the sign, ‘Free beer tomorrow’.

    I reckon it’s a mantra Todd Greenberg should adopt. One-time boss David Gallop still loves a wave and for over a decade until 2012 guided the game to the perfect break.

    But don’t take my word for it; Tim Sheens said as much back in 2005 after his Wests Tigers rocketed to an unexpected maiden title.

    Asked by David Middleton if the Tigers had invented a new style or if it was a style recycled from the past, Sheens said, “Over a period of years the game has moved along in leaps and bounds. Even though the fundamental principles of skill, strength, speed has been there, this year I think there has been more of a swing towards skill versus the size and athleticism, which is interesting. The skilful player has been more successful this year than the big fast guy”.

    It was definitely a unique season. The lightning ruck speed hasn’t been matched since, and for Sheens’ fresh-legged lightweights ‎it proved the perfect storm.

    Scotty Prince in tandem with Benji Marshall was uninhibited bliss, but just as vivid in my mind is the twig-like figure of Brett Hodgson blazing beyond the 300-point barrier.

    It was fast, open footy, and if that’s your thing, then season 2005 is your benchmark.

    That said, it wouldn’t be the first time nostalgia and embellishment has teamed to run rings around the facts. It’s a bit like the Benji flick – is Patty Richards really the scorer of the greatest ever grand final try?

    Bugged by curiosity I crunched some numbers for context. Based on average points scored per match since the introduction of the four-point try in 1983, I was surprised to find four distinct phases:

    1983 to 1993
    Average: 33.7 points per game
    Lowest: 30.0 (1989)
    Highest 38.7 (1983)

    1994 to 2000
    Average: 40.8 points per game
    Lowest: 38.5 (1996)
    Highest 42.2 (2000)

    2001 to 2005
    Average: 48.0 points per game
    Lowest: 47.0 (2005)
    Highest 48.9 (2001)

    2006 to 2017
    Average: 41.6 points per game
    Lowest: 39.1 (2011)
    Highest: 43.8 (2006)

    Thoughts of rose-tinted glasses were smashed too; the Tigers’ breakout season rounded out a five-year period of unmatched flamboyance where matches averaged 48 points – almost two tries more per game than the periods on either side.

    Just as significant is the minor deviation either side of each average, a sure sign each phase is a response to modifications aimed at widening the game’s appeal.

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    It’s hardly a stretch to say ruck speed and match totals reflect the rules, on-field interpretation and coach cunning of the time. The variables are much like a tap, but what pressure is best?

    Those on the levers obviously thought the points flowed way too freely for the likes of Prince and Marshall in 2005 and so the following season tightened the valve, resulting in one less try per match. Maybe it was an instruction for referees to slow the ruck that fuelled wrestle-mania. Whatever it was, in terms of average points per match little has changed in the 13 years since.

    In itself this is hardly a problem. If anything, it confirms Sheens’s belief that the game was headed in the right direction and now over a decade later is within a lick of the finished product. And, to be honest, in the 13-a-side format, what’s left to tweak? It’s clear each facet crucial to aesthetics is now pretty well shaped.

    Scrums and all their pre-90s muck – gone! Well not totally, but you know what I mean. They’re now slick and, although predictable, it’s not rugby league without them.

    Ugly one-on-one possession contests – gone! No-one raked from marker better than Benny Elias and Ian Roberts. Everyone else conceded clumsy penalties and finished on the bench with ice on their nose.

    Spoil and grind dogs of war – gone! Phil Blake’s 27 tries in 1983 haven’t been bettered since but just as remarkable are the 13 he scored in 1986 – no-one scored more. The negativity peaked in 1986 when only four grand final tries were scored across three seasons.

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    For all but the hardiest of die-hards it was a slog too much. As a consequence, defenders were rewarded for defusing in-goal bombs and by 1994 the 10-metre rule catered for a more open spectacle. More recently extra razzle has come from seven-tackle restarts and invisible corner posts.

    Endless energy – gone! By the year 2000, with unlimited interchange, play hammered at full throttle until the 80th minute. Scores rocketed from 2001 with the introduction of limited interchange. Quick play-the-balls and fatigue was a finisher’s bonanza and 2003 remains the only season in premiership history where seven players have scored in excess of 20 tries.

    If pressed to recall a downside from the Tigers blitzkrieg era, it would be the endless uninspiring rushes from dummy half which are now thankfully less apparent in today’s game.

    Throw in the shoulder-charge ban and efforts to eliminate high tackles and I reckon the current on-field action is better than ever. Skills across the park are unmatched and the speed of the collisions never more brutal.

    But is it the perfect wave?

    David Gallop knows satisfying all the riders never comes. But it will be a step closer when Todd Greenberg’s refs blow wrestling out of the water.

    The New South Wales State of Origin team for the 2018 series remains a mystery, with new coach Brad Fittler facing plenty of selection headaches. So we want you to tell us - and all your mates - who should start for Blues in Game 1 with our team picker.

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    The Crowd Says (35)

    • Roar Guru

      January 19th 2018 @ 8:21am
      Jason Hosken said | January 19th 2018 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      Hold the phone – Editors, are fair slice has been removed from this – you’ve deleted the context!

      • Roar Guru

        January 19th 2018 @ 9:19am
        Jason Hosken said | January 19th 2018 @ 9:19am | ! Report

        It’s okay Jase, relax, the Editors have made the fix…

        Thanks guys – cheers Jason

      • Roar Guru

        January 19th 2018 @ 9:20am
        Emcie said | January 19th 2018 @ 9:20am | ! Report

        You got a summary?

    • January 19th 2018 @ 8:40am
      Peeeko said | January 19th 2018 @ 8:40am | ! Report

      Interesting stats, I think you overplay the effect of prince and Marshall. They were a dominant side for about 6 weeks

      • Roar Guru

        January 19th 2018 @ 11:01am
        Jason Hosken said | January 19th 2018 @ 11:01am | ! Report

        Coat-hangered by nostalgia. That said, plenty of others ran amok too – tryfest.

      • January 19th 2018 @ 11:10am
        Albo said | January 19th 2018 @ 11:10am | ! Report

        Yep ! The Tigers were 9th at round 18 of 2005 and then got on a run into the 8 , but then lost their round 25 & 26 games to finish 4th, before putting it all together through the finals series. Really that year any of 6 or 8 teams could have won it , if they performed well through the finals series. The Tigers were the team that did it best in that month !

        • Roar Guru

          January 21st 2018 @ 9:58am
          Jason Hosken said | January 21st 2018 @ 9:58am | ! Report

          Yep, that’s true but the Tiges had no problem scoring points all season, they finished second for points scored. Prince and Benji stood out all season. What did improve at the back end was their defense.

    • January 19th 2018 @ 8:55am
      MAX said | January 19th 2018 @ 8:55am | ! Report

      Hi Jason,

      The jet ski riders are still searching hoping to rescue the missing context.

      That aside,you have created a magnificent piece of writing which sets the benchmark
      for Season ’18. Visions of Shipstern Bluff and Nazare mixed with Rugby League is
      a potent mix, as though they were made for each other.

      I am compelled to place an order for one (1) carton of Hosken’s Nostalgia & Embellishment
      Extract. I am confident it will assist in easing the anxiety attacks caused by the errant whistle.

      • January 19th 2018 @ 11:16am
        Birdy said | January 19th 2018 @ 11:16am | ! Report

        Wow MAX,
        You know your big wave locations. Good to see.
        Do I detect a bit of wax in your hair.
        If we ever catch up for a beer I choose Nazare.

      • Roar Guru

        January 19th 2018 @ 11:49am
        Jason Hosken said | January 19th 2018 @ 11:49am | ! Report

        Top of the Season to you Max! Mate, I’ve only ever owned one surfboard, foam thing it was. The big kids punched their foot prints all over it – funny looking, wish I’d kept it now.

        • January 19th 2018 @ 12:19pm
          MAX said | January 19th 2018 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

          Hi Jason and Birdy,

          The non stop Rugby League replays on 502 have me imbibing from the
          nostalgia cup to excess. Your brilliant piece was a sobering reminder that
          with the right leadership and rule book the GGoA could ride the big ones.

          I enjoyed the good body wave but ranked in the very ordinary on a board.

          On RL and Waves, I can recall Frank Stanton saying that Manly’s biggest
          recruitment problem was the competition from the surf. Probably still is?

          • January 19th 2018 @ 12:27pm
            Birdy said | January 19th 2018 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

            I think Stanton was right.
            Major problem for the Titans
            .no 502 for me anymore, might have to rethink Foxtel before February.

          • Roar Guru

            January 19th 2018 @ 2:13pm
            Jason Hosken said | January 19th 2018 @ 2:13pm | ! Report

            Georgey Rose barrelling a Hang-10 at Curl Curl…turn it up Biscuits!!

    • Roar Guru

      January 19th 2018 @ 10:03am
      Nat said | January 19th 2018 @ 10:03am | ! Report

      Interesting read Jason. There is another variable in that period and that is the professionalism of the sport that came with money and TV coverage. Up to the late 80’s, we essentially had above average park footy players representing our traditional Sydney and Brisbane clubs and they all had jobs to go to during the week. So when footy became their jobs, of course skill sets are higher, specific trainers and dieticians are part of everyday life. Now with Wrestling coaches, and Melbourne do it best, they don’t lay in the ruck, it’s grab hold, twist and manipulate the player to the ground. All in slow motion but never stop moving, therefore, no penalties. Superb athletes them all but the principles are still the same. The big, strong forward is the most effective meter eater. Pace is the most powerful weapon in the backs yet the small man is the most feared man on the park.

      • Roar Guru

        January 19th 2018 @ 10:42am
        Jason Hosken said | January 19th 2018 @ 10:42am | ! Report

        Fair point Nat. Playing weight across the park is probably more even these days and with it skills have advanced in certain areas but to the detriment in others.

        My point about wrestling is not for a change of rules. I reckon it’s as simple as the ref blowing time on tackles before they meander into the ring. Recollection and stats indicate the game was more free flowing from 2001-2005, largely on the refs interp at the ruck.

        • Roar Guru

          January 19th 2018 @ 12:22pm
          Nat said | January 19th 2018 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

          I agree. You only have to watch an old replay to see how quick the ruck speed was. A legs tackler told to roll away because the tackle was complete at that stage. With Melbourne, the tackle is not complete until they are set. It’s ugly but effective. I’m nit sure how you administer a time limit on a tackle though. There is a time limit from the point of “Held” to clear the ruck and that’s where the Storm excel, Held is delayed due to the constant movement. The attacker is completely manipulated and being slowly drawn to the ground. It is 1-2 seconds extra which is plenty of time for a set defence.

          • Roar Guru

            January 19th 2018 @ 2:16pm
            Jason Hosken said | January 19th 2018 @ 2:16pm | ! Report

            Good summation Nat, read with tears though. Really sucks the life out of the play, especially when attackers should be rewarded for breaking the line.

    • January 19th 2018 @ 10:08am
      Paul said | January 19th 2018 @ 10:08am | ! Report

      Jason, some skills are unmatched, especially winger diving for the corner to put the ball down, or players diving over the dead ball line to pass back to a team mate to score. Other than that, I find attacks pretty boring these days as most sides only seem to have one move they use consistently – the backline raid on the left side with an overlap where they can pass short to a guy or across to the winger. Or they bomb the ball from anywhere on the field

      Maybe it’s nostalgia but I remember a lot more second phase play coming from forward offloads in years gone by than happens today. This made some attacks brilliant to watch because they were unpredictable. That’s something I’d love to see come back into the game,

      • January 19th 2018 @ 10:43am
        Hawks said | January 19th 2018 @ 10:43am | ! Report

        Agree with you on that Paul, but I think the style of play in the present day, which is unique to styles exhibited in past eras of rugby league are a sign of the times rather than a reflection upon the rules (or lack there of). Just as Melbourne changed the style of play in 2006/07 with wrestling tactics, rock solid defence and high completions to keep their boot on oppositions throats for sustained periods with a devastating (in hindsight, illegal) compilation of players, it will take a team with a different style of play to successfully bring back more flamboyance. When this happens, the carpet will be rolled out for 15 other teams to follow their lead, and into the next era we go.

        For now, rugby league has its own unique style – and don’t we all love it, just as we have loved previous styles of play over the years!

        • January 19th 2018 @ 11:06am
          Paul said | January 19th 2018 @ 11:06am | ! Report

          Hope you’re right Hawks. It will be interesting to see which direction League takes on the field.

      • Roar Guru

        January 19th 2018 @ 12:05pm
        Jason Hosken said | January 19th 2018 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

        Good point Paul. A lot of today’s forward offloads appear premeditated – back turned before the defensive line. That said, I think there’s more creativity around the ruck these days, the likes of Melbourne and even my Eagles last year put on some real clever work to bust up centre field.

        I’m with the Hawk too – at the end of the day, any footy is good footy.

    • January 19th 2018 @ 10:44am
      TheCertifiedJourneyman said | January 19th 2018 @ 10:44am | ! Report

      Best article you’ve written to date ya big galoot, you could take that to a Science-in-the-Pub type talkfest.

      Agree with Nat & Paul’s points as well but the bits they touch on are the ‘intangibles’ of the game that will always be difficult to objectively quantify.

      Good article, good comments all.