Peter Sterling discusses the big issues ahead of the 2018 NRL season (Part 4)

Riley Pettigrew Roar Guru

By Riley Pettigrew, Riley Pettigrew is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger

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    The NRL pre-season is here and we are now just under a month away from the regular season.

    As Round 1 draws near, four-time premiership winner Peter Sterling sat down to discuss the big issues ahead of the upcoming footy season.

    Here is what Sterlo had to say on some of the hot topics including cracking down on the play-the-ball, junior rugby league weight restrictions and international eligibility.

    Todd Greenberg has come out and stated there will be a crackdown on the play-the-ball. How do you think that will change the pace of the game? Will the referees police it?
    Well they have to. Andrew Fifita could get penalised every play the ball, and I’m not picking him out because so many of them do it every time I watch, and it’s a blight on our game.

    The speed of the play the ball is quick anyway but to play tunnel ball just makes it impossible for markers to get in position and impossible for opposing teams to get back the ten and it just becomes scrappy. We want a flowing game but there has to be a balance. We don’t want it too quick.

    You can’t tackle around the legs these days because you’ll get penalised for doing so but there’s got to be sometime for a defender to get back onside if he’s made a good tackle and we don’t want a lot of penalties around the ruck area. I hope they get along with it.

    Everyone’s now saying yeah we saw 14 penalties in a try the other day for the first month they’ll be strong on it and all of a sudden things will go back the way they were. Let’s hope that that’s not the case and it is up to the officials to make sure that it isn’t and the only way to do it is to blow the whistle. And until a coach says to his team, alright this is really starting to hurt us, then things don’t change.

    Will Chambers is tackled

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    So we have to be prepared to have high penalty counts early on to establish a precedent and it starts to hurt sides and then the coaches will actually start coaching so that their team isn’t putting themselves out of contention by giving away twice as many as the opposition.

    Only time will tell but I hope and I’m glad that it’s been addressed because it had to have been but it now falls back to in the official’s lap as to getting that part of it right because it has an effect on the speed of our ruck and the speed of the ruck has got to be a little bit of leeway. The defensive side has got to get some reward for being a good defensive side. The attacking team has to get some reward when they deserve it. It’s too far in their advantage at the moment.

    Another issue around the ruck is penalties conceded on your own goal-line. How do we prevent that?

    Look I’ve always been an advocate of the five-minute sin-bin because ten minutes – games can be won or lost in that time. Teams could score two or three tries and all of a sudden the game has been blown apart.

    So we’ve got to be a little bit careful – we’ve had more rule changes in the last ten years then we’ve had in the last ninety and I think that sometimes we’ve been a little bit too reactive and we haven’t understood that if you throw a pebble in and make a change, there are all these ripples that are a result of that. So we’ve really got to be thoughtful as to the repercussions of changes that are made.

    I think a five-minute sin-bin is certainly much more appropriate for some of the offenses in our game but then we have the situation of where the line is between a five-minute and a ten-minute. So that is one of the ripples but I mentioned a blight on our game. There is no doubt in the world that teams give away penalties on their own line so that teams can set their defence, and they’ll back their defence, and it makes the game in what should be the most exciting area of the field – poor entertainment.

    So again you have to be strong in how you adjudicate that and get the coaches to again say alright guys we can’t give away this amount of penalties because it’s losing us games. So strong adjudication again from the men in the middle and the people that are directing them but they’re two areas that need to be addressed because they retract markedly from the entertainment.

    Russell Crowe came out recently talking about weight in junior rugby league. Do you think rules should be changed to help retain young players?
    It is a concern and has been for a while because (and I’m not being insensitive) when I say that we have such a large Islander population playing our game and young Islander kids tend to be much bigger than maybe caucasian and Anglo-Saxon kids and we don’t want to lose players in those formative years between 12 and 16, and that is sometimes where the weight really becomes an issue.

    On the flipside of that, we don’t want eleven year olds playing against fifteen year olds either. There has to be some balance in there and whether that’s a split couple of years leeway where we looks at 10s, 12s, 14s, 16s and work something else within those age divisions and incorporate weight and age to a degree that the anomaly isn’t an eleven year old playing against a sixteen year old just because they weigh the same. I think that it’s something that we really need to explore and act on in our junior league sooner than later.

    Andrew Fifita is tackled

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    Again we have to come up with the right decisions because this is where the lifeblood of our game is. My concern has been certainly players getting hurt, which means that they don’t want to play our game. Kids not enjoying themselves, which means that they don’t want to play our game and the amount of players that we lose who will go to other sports to fulfil their sporting need if they’re not enjoying our game.

    So I thought Russell, he was spot on in his concern. I’m not quite sure whether he gave the real recipe for how to fix it but I think the fact he’s raised it captures people’s attention so that was a very very good thing. I think there’s something that can be done there with a combination of weight and age to the betterment of our game to what we are seeing now.

    State of Origin will be coming to Adelaide in 2020. Will we see more neutral venues in the future?
    I guess the very fact that we now have Origin played in Melbourne and Adelaide, I think that it’s clear that the hierarchy want to expand the game at that level.

    I don’t know if I’m a huge fan. I want to take rugby league to as many places we can, I don’t know about Origin. I know that in many ways it is our jewel in the crown but Origin, the success of Origin, has always been that us against them mentality and we have to make sure that that’s not diluted. I’m a bit old school in relation to it’s Queensland versus NSW.

    Taking it to Melbourne has worked, crowds down there have been fantastic and I think obviously with the success of the Melbourne Storm that has helped to attract people to an unknown elite representative game.

    We don’t have that in Adelaide, the Rams were a long, long time ago but it’s a good venue, it’s a high-profile match in relation to they’re taking game one or two there, that hasn’t been decided but it’s not as though they’re going to see a dead rubber, they’re seeing a significant game over there.

    In answer to your question, I would imagine Perth might be a little bit harder for fans to get to so there’s a number of considerations. The very fact they don’t know if it’s going to be game one or two shows that they haven’t got the nuts and bolts of it but they’ll make a decision and they’ll work that out.

    Queensland Maroons 2017 State of Origin

    (AAP Image/Darren England)

    I understand the decision, I want our game to be seen by as wide an audience as possible, it’s a great spectacle so if you’re looking to get people on the rugby league bandwagon it’s the perfect avenue but we must make sure that what has made Origin successful isn’t tampered with too much so that all of a sudden it loses the very fabric of what makes it work and that is Queensland versus NSW.

    Andrew Fifita defected to Tonga for last year’s World Cup, is it fair to ban him from the New South Wales team?
    I think we’ve sort of backed ourselves into a corner in relation to eligibility. The bottom line is if players aren’t playing for Australia or one of the tier one nations but are eligible elsewhere, everyday of the week they should be going back to play for the Pacific Islands because I think those nations are the next growth area and we’re not far away from them becoming a tier one country so we need to foster that.

    When it comes then to state representation all of a sudden it’s difficult. On a wider scale, I know that we want our best players playing for their country. It came to a head because of the World Cup, it’s not easy. The call for consistency in the game worries me at times because sometimes you don’t actually know what you’ve got until you get it.

    The example I always use, they brought in a rule a number of years ago where you weren’t deemed to have enjoyed advantage unless the ball had gone ten metres forward which meant that you could throw twelve passes across the field, from one side of the field to the other and if you only went 9.5 metres forward, you hadn’t been deemed to have taken advantage which was ridiculous but consistent, consistent in a ridiculous way.

    Tonga tall

    (NRLPhotos/Fional Goodall)

    We just have to be careful with a number of situations in relation to eligibility. Yes, we have to have rules in place but we also have to have some flexibility and we also have to have some common sense in relation to the individual and the situation.

    Now I’m not saying Fifita is necessarily that but he may well be. I had no qualms about Taumalolo going and playing for Tonga, that’s their decision to make and I think it was successful and we need to foster the international game but as to how that relates to Origin I think we need to explore that closely.

    We’re going from a representative scene where Tonie Carroll played for both Australia and New Zealand, we haven’t quite got it right in the past and I’m not entirely sure we’ve got it right now but I think we have a better understanding of what we would look to get out of our representative football and sometimes the situation of the individual needs to be addressed as that way instead of you know the rule says this so that has to be applied to that person.

    Stay tuned for part four where we will discuss international rugby league, expansion and State of Origin.

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    The Crowd Says (7)

    • February 23rd 2018 @ 4:20am
      Johnno said | February 23rd 2018 @ 4:20am | ! Report

      Good points from Sterlo
      I think a two switch policy should come into eligibly to replace the current unlimited. So a player can make two switches in his career as long as the switch is not to a side in the same Tier as the current side he’s playing for.
      So an example is like Josh Papalii.. He played for Aussies then switched to Samoa(first switch), if he is selected for aussies again and takes up that selection offer that would be his 2nd switch and he’d be tie to Samoa for life..
      Josh Mcguire started at Samoa then switched to Aussies(1st switch), if he switches back to Samoa(2nd switch) then he is tied to Samoa for life.
      And notice periods must be brought in of your intention to switch if picked for another nation outside of your Tier your currently playing for(80-days or 100-days notice etc).. A two switch policy is more fair and credible and better media image for the game to the wider global sports community etc..
      And grandparent rule keep, how can you deny someone the right to play for a country if they obtained a passport to that country on heritage grounds? Awkard situation if you started barring players from playing for a nation if they have a passport to that nation. Most sports adopt a grandparent rule e.g. soccer and rugby union and cricket I think etc..

    • February 23rd 2018 @ 6:25am
      Greg Ambrose said | February 23rd 2018 @ 6:25am | ! Report

      I wonder what the stats say about the 10 minute sin bin? I’m pretty sure a lot of times teams defend that 10 minute period pretty well and they get a moral boost because of this. No doubt at other times the floodgates open to some extent.

      I’d like the refs to use it more and earlier to help get rid of some nonsense like deliberate penalties close to the line.

    • February 23rd 2018 @ 6:51am
      jeff dustby said | February 23rd 2018 @ 6:51am | ! Report

      It is still not clear if sterlo sat down with Riley Pettigrew or this is a transcript of another conversation

    • February 23rd 2018 @ 7:34am
      Jeff Morris said | February 23rd 2018 @ 7:34am | ! Report

      Regarding the sin bin, how about look at what they do in ice hockey. For minor penalties, if the team infringed on scores the penalty ends and teams return to full strength. For major penalties, on the other hand, the team infringed on can score as many times as they can during the penalty.

    • February 23rd 2018 @ 9:54am
      Andrew Pengelly said | February 23rd 2018 @ 9:54am | ! Report

      “You can’t tackle around the legs these days because you’ll get penalised for doing so”
      Tell me it isn’t so!

      • March 3rd 2018 @ 12:08pm
        John Hollins said | March 3rd 2018 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

        Yeah I didn’t get that comment either. Is he saying that it takes longer to tackle around the legs and get back on side, and so they risk being penalised for off-side? Whatever he means, around the leg tackling should be encouraged at every opportunity. It’s more effective, I believe more entertaining, and can be done by one defender, not 3 or 4.

    • February 23rd 2018 @ 1:52pm
      Bazza said | February 23rd 2018 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

      Regarding the Age / Weight issue. No one is suggesting 11 or 12 year olds play against 15 or 16 year olds.
      Get a grip guys ! Where talking about a 14 year old that is quite tall, 90 to 100kg, has superior ability should play up one age. It’s not ‘rocket surgery’ .
      NSWRL and the NRL need to get there collective heads out of the sand and get some raw data by asking players for their weight and height when they register . An excellent starting point to see how real the problem actually is.

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