Breaking: Players unfairly forced to play the ball correctly in 2018

Mr X Roar Guru

By Mr X, Mr X is a Roar Guru

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30 Have your say

    Stunning scenes at Rotorua on the weekend saw several first-grade rugby league players penalised for not playing the ball correctly.

    In a shocking twist, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg’s promise to crack down on illegitimate play-the-balls means that now players will have to roll the ball with their foot.

    Aren’t players of today under enough pressure to perform without the added stress of actually attempting to genuinely play the ball correctly?

    New Zealand rugby league great Darryl Halligan echoed similar sentiments following the Warriors versus Storm trial, where both sides were pinned for failing to get boot to ball.

    Halligan voiced concerns that it may be too difficult for players to change their ways as “they’ve been doing it for so long… you basically have to re-teach yourself”.

    Cronulla Sharks prop Andrew Fifita is one of the worst offenders when it comes to lazy attempts. Halligan is undoubtedly right in this instance – it is completely unreasonable to expect Fifita, who is being paid approximately $800,000 a season, to go out of his way to practice striking the ball backwards with his feet instead of simply rolling it through.

    In addition, how can players be required to remember all the way back to their childhood, when they were first taught how to play the ball correctly? It is completely absurd that such difficult demands are placed upon professional athletes.

    Fortunately, there are videos out there that should be of assistance to players struggling with this rule, such as the following video:

    I guess we will know by the close of 2018 whether Todd Greenberg took his position of authority one step too far in making this extreme request.

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    The Crowd Says (30)

    • Roar Guru

      February 20th 2018 @ 5:55am
      The Barry said | February 20th 2018 @ 5:55am | ! Report

      Nice article Mr X

      I’ve got no problem with this being enforced but am I the only one who shudders a little when I think of words like consistency and interpretation?

      There have been a few of these pre-season crackdowns. Typically we see a blizzard of penalties for the first three rounds, then everyone forgets about it and normal service is resumed by round four.

      But while we’re at it why don’t we get markers standing square, tackled players not walking off the mark and dummy halves throwing the ball backwards…

      • Roar Guru

        February 20th 2018 @ 6:47am
        Mr X said | February 20th 2018 @ 6:47am | ! Report

        Morning TB, 100% agree with you that whilst the intentions in correcting the mess that has become the play the ball are great, its success will all depend on how consistently the referees can enforce it.

    • February 20th 2018 @ 7:31am
      BA Sports said | February 20th 2018 @ 7:31am | ! Report

      I look forward to the first Friday night game when we go the video ref to check the grounding and in doing so it is noted back at the ruck that the player may or may not have touched the ball with his foot while playing it – forcing us to listen the commentators lamenting both the video ref and the play the ball rule as we “rock n roll the footage for what feels like 5 minutes to see if he got a stud on the ball…

      They will alllow the try to stand and in the second half a try will be scored and awarded on the ground and in watching replays we will see the PTB was incorrect and inconsistency will be there for all to see within 60 minutes of the season starting..

      A cynic I am, but I reckon Sportsbet wouldn’t give me more than $2

      • Roar Guru

        February 20th 2018 @ 11:55am
        Mr X said | February 20th 2018 @ 11:55am | ! Report

        Not something I considered BA Sports but certainly could happen at some point in the year. I guess it relies on the players catching on quickly and playing the ball correctly again so that such inconsistencies can be avoided. You would hope though that if the refs are actually cracking down on it they will be able to consistently police it as to catch a poor play the ball before a try could be scored.

    • Roar Guru

      February 20th 2018 @ 10:33am
      Nat said | February 20th 2018 @ 10:33am | ! Report

      It’s about time. As TB points out, I think the words consistency and interpretation should not be in the same methodology. Be consistent to the letter of the law and consistent in applying it. Last season we saw no attempts to touch the ball, and all teams were guilty of it, yet if the marker beat the hooker to the ball, due to the speed of the PTB, they were penalised for not letting the ball clear the ruck. That and face goal to goal. If they are unsure, a quick video session of an U10s game should set them straight.

      • Roar Guru

        February 20th 2018 @ 11:57am
        Mr X said | February 20th 2018 @ 11:57am | ! Report

        Pretty much spot on Nat – can only hope that the officials are thinking likewise.

    • February 20th 2018 @ 1:05pm
      Paul said | February 20th 2018 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

      I recall in the days of Dallas Donnelly and co, the NRL decided to stamp out punching and brawling from the game and the commentators at the time felt it would be hard to do because it would make the game more whimpy, and long term , experienced players would have to unlearn ingrained habits. They managed to do that over a season or two of enforcement so this should be pretty simple, especially if failing to do so results in a penalty that costs their side a game

      • Roar Guru

        February 20th 2018 @ 1:41pm
        Mr X said | February 20th 2018 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

        Exactly, players would be stupid considering how soft a penalty it would be to concede.

    • February 20th 2018 @ 1:39pm
      Gray-Hand said | February 20th 2018 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

      I don’t see how requiring players to play the ball with the foot rather than just rolling it under their legs makes for a better contest or for a better spectacle.

      Seriously – what benefit is this supposed to achieve?

      • Roar Guru

        February 20th 2018 @ 1:43pm
        Mr X said | February 20th 2018 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

        Gray-Hand, it is a simple and easy change that should be implemented quite quickly to start off with. Secondly, it makes the game look sloppy if players aren’t playing the ball properly. Finally, it is one of the most simple rules of rugby league so it is an embarrassment if the players aren’t following it. It is not about making the game more exciting.

        • February 20th 2018 @ 2:07pm
          Gray-Hand said | February 20th 2018 @ 2:07pm | ! Report

          It is a rule that adds nothing of any value to the game.

          It would make more sense for the NRL to simply change the rule to allow the ball to be rolled under the legs. The game would continue to flow and the pedants could sleep soundly at night.

          • February 20th 2018 @ 3:05pm
            jimmmy said | February 20th 2018 @ 3:05pm | ! Report

            Way , way ,way to much sense there GH.

          • February 20th 2018 @ 4:32pm
            Boz said | February 20th 2018 @ 4:32pm | ! Report

            “Nothing of value to the game” – apart from naturally slowing the play-the-ball, giving the defence less of an excuse to hold down the tackled player, which then reduces the wrestle, which then makes a better spectacle of the game etc, etc.

            • February 20th 2018 @ 5:22pm
              Gray-Hand said | February 20th 2018 @ 5:22pm | ! Report

              Cracking down on the play the ball will have zero effect on wrestling tactics, and will only serve to slow ruck speed even further.

              It will also allow new avenues for slowing down the play the ball since even the slightest bump or pull will be enough to knock the ball player off balance.

              The game does not have a problem with ruck speed being to fast at the moment.

              • February 21st 2018 @ 1:19am
                Oingo Boingo said | February 21st 2018 @ 1:19am | ! Report

                Passing it backwards adds nothing , come to think of it , nor does kicking from behind the line for drop outs and restarts , don’t get me started on kicking the ball over the crossbar when converting, after all , why even make them get it between the uprights….. Sooooo many pointless , stupid , antiquated rules that add NOTHING.

              • February 21st 2018 @ 9:10am
                Gray-Hand said | February 21st 2018 @ 9:10am | ! Report

                Not valid counterpoints.

                Passing backwards is essential to the character of the game as a contest for territory. It also adds an element of extra skill because it demands better timing and vision to be able to create a line break. Just about all the greatest players had great passing games.

                Field goals being required to be behind the line is also essential to the contest for territory once it sets the limit as to how far forward the kicker can take the kick, thus affecting his range.

                Requirements of kicking goals over the crossbar and between the post are obviously important. It requires extra skill to put the kill club on target, so that adds to the contest. It also adds immensely to the spectacle. The 1989 and 2015 grand finals are the two grand finals that are most often argued as being the best grand finals of all time. Both are largely defined by the ball bouncing off the crossbar and the posts respectively.

                What was the greatest play the ball of all time? Which player was the greatest player of the ball?
                No one knows and no one cares.

              • Roar Guru

                February 21st 2018 @ 12:42pm
                Mr X said | February 21st 2018 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

                Grayhand, I’ll admit that you are arguing very well but at the crux of my argument is this – players playing the call correctly again is not a hard thing for them to do. It’s a simple fix. I don’t see why they can’t fix it easily no matter the reason. People have been complaining about the standard of play the balls recently and the NRL have responded.

              • Roar Rookie

                February 21st 2018 @ 1:12pm
                Bunney said | February 21st 2018 @ 1:12pm | ! Report


                Asking “What is the greatest play the ball of all time?” is fatuous.

                You defend the pass being thrown backwards as meritorious, yet passes are for the very most part, similarly immemorable to correct play the balls.
                We remember forward passes and incorrect play the balls when there is one in the lead-up to a try, or when the whistle is blown for an innocuous one after 30 more blatant ones in the game have been let go.

                I think the major impediment to consistently adjudicating the play the ball is the stiffness of the penalty. The Barry a few comments down suggests lifting a foot and rolling it is sufficient, in what amounts to a minor tweak to the rules. Most punters would agree that’d be sufficient. So there is a tonne of grey area. At what point down the slippery slope is a penalty called?
                Its a minor indiscretion, which is why refs find blowing a penalty, and thus stripping possession off the team, so difficult.

                The advantage of the intentionally sloppy play the ball – whether it be not playing it with your foot, not standing straight, walking off the mark, whatever, is speed. So, just like they have with playing the ball too far forward, tweak the rules and simply get the offender to play it again – properly. That extra second teams allow their opposition to set their defensive lines because they haven’t played the ball properly will force them to (largely) play it properly, and probably end the argument.

      • February 20th 2018 @ 1:55pm
        BA Sports said | February 20th 2018 @ 1:55pm | ! Report

        It actually helps to slow the ruck down a little most of the time

        • February 20th 2018 @ 2:09pm
          Gray-Hand said | February 20th 2018 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

          That is just an effect, not necessarily a benefit.

      • February 20th 2018 @ 1:57pm
        Bunney said | February 20th 2018 @ 1:57pm | ! Report


        Have a look at the difference in ball play speed it makes. Fifita (an example) gets to his feet quickly, but is off-balance; however, he is able to sweetly roll the ball to the dummy-half very quickly, and is falling over in the process.
        Enforcing him to stand up and play the ball properly with his foot requires balance, and therefore, it takes more time.

        If it didn’t achieve anything, they’d just do it properly.
        They cheat (by rolling) to gain an advantage.

      • Roar Rookie

        February 20th 2018 @ 5:22pm
        Joe said | February 20th 2018 @ 5:22pm | ! Report

        Kind of agree with you here. If I look back at the last couple of seasons I’m not thinking…if only they had policed play of the balls correctly things would have been better. I would not be happy if all these play of the ball penalties decided the outcome of games. If that Warriors v Storm trial was anything to go by the viewing public won’t be too impressed either by the number of penalties and they’re mostly when the attacking team is on a roll and getting quick play of the balls and its all brought to a halt by the whistle. In several of the cases over the weekend the defense in trying to slow the attack has their hands on the attacking player and just put him off balance enough so that he misses the ball with his foot as he’s trying to regain balance…who should be penalized in that case and will it be consistent. If they want to be pedantic what about the feeding of the scrum being straight? Nobody cares about that anymore as its just become part of the game.

        • Roar Guru

          February 20th 2018 @ 5:30pm
          Mr X said | February 20th 2018 @ 5:30pm | ! Report

          Afternoon Joe,
          It certainly won’t be pleasant viewing at the start but ultimately it should be an easy fix if the players get it right. There is room for players to abuse this rule as you have said and to tamper with the play the ball as to force an error from the opposition yet one would hope that as part of their training the referees can identify when this occurs so they can correctly award the penalty.

      • Roar Guru

        February 21st 2018 @ 8:16am
        The Barry said | February 21st 2018 @ 8:16am | ! Report

        It’s a good point from gray hand.

        I see this as being a mess. There’s no way this will be ruled consistently and we’ll also have arguments about “if you look at the freeze frame his left toe clearly touches the ball”

        It will only cause controversy.

        Plus you get more errors at dummy half when players play it with their foot.

        Playing the ball with the foot comes from a time when the play the ball was a contest. Now that it’s not there’s no need for this rule.

        Make it that a player has to lift a foot and roll the ball under it rather than just straight between the legs. That provides as much slowing down as touching with the foot.

        • Roar Guru

          February 21st 2018 @ 12:39pm
          Mr X said | February 21st 2018 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

          That’s an interesting option TB – I don’t mind it as an alternative. I am hopeful it will be consistently applied as the refs were very consistent in penalising players over the trial weekend but obviously it is necessary to wait until the actual season to see whether it sticks. As for the complaint about the Bunker checking, I agree that definitely would be irritating but hopefully it would only need to be checked if there were substantial complaints about the player the ball from the opposition. This is where I really truly believe that the Captains Challenge is needed in the NRL.

        • Roar Rookie

          February 21st 2018 @ 1:17pm
          Joe said | February 21st 2018 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

          That is a good compromise for the player to lift his foot and roll the ball under it. Would be much easier to police consistently as well and players just dumping the ball between their legs should be penalized.

    • February 20th 2018 @ 2:17pm
      Gray-Hand said | February 20th 2018 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

      look at it this way:

      Make a list of your top ten ( or top 20, or 100 or even top 1000) favourite rugby league moments. The moments that make you love the game. The perfectly placed passes, the desperate tackles, the perfectly placed kicks etc…

      How many of those moments are perfectly executed plays the balls?

      • February 20th 2018 @ 2:28pm
        Bunney said | February 20th 2018 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

        I take your point Gray Hand, but conversely, if I made a list of the top things about league that drives me nuts, refs not adjudicating the rules properly would be right up there.

        Play the ball properly and you’re sweet.
        Don’t and the rules should be enforced. Pretty simple stuff.

        It is not the refs jobs to work out if a rule is fair or not, their job is only to apply them uniformly in each match.

        • Roar Guru

          February 20th 2018 @ 2:38pm
          Mr X said | February 20th 2018 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

          Exactly Bunney – it is pretty simple stuff for players to do.

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