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“This is rubbish”: The NRL must stop trying to reinvent rugby league

Matt Cecchin is the best ref in the game. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
27th May, 2018
63
2178 Reads

The frustration in Matt Nable’s voice said it all, “this is rubbish”.

Ben Cummins had just destroyed the Titans’ comeback play against the Roosters and for the dry-as-a-dead-dingo Fox Sports commentator it was spontaneous recognition of the elephant in the room.

Garth Brennan’s Gold Coast had already squandered a 14-6 halftime advantage and trailed by 14 points when Anthony Don broke clear with seven minutes to play. The Roosters scrambled and ended the play metres short of the goal-line, but for the Titans, the hard work had been done.

A penalty was the last thing the men from the Tweed needed but that’s exactly what they got when Cummins took centre stage. The hold down penalty was warranted but with the Roosters defence in disarray the Gold Coast deserved at least one more play to ram home their advantage.

Instead the boys from Bondi regrouped, Nable exploded and I flicked the channel in disgust.

Pedantic crackdowns, predictable penalty cycles and the inconsistent adjudication of unwritten rules – the NRL is losing touch. The elements of flow and context that make the game great are all under threat.

So when someone with the background of Matt Nable slams his fist, it’s time for Todd Greenberg to stand up and take notice.

Nable knows league, he has mixed it with the best in centre field and is now a growing voice with one of the games largest backers.

But more than that, Nable knows entertainment. The Final Winter is his story, a movie devoted to the game and his face is a regular on the silver screen.

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Nable’s explosive outburst had probably been brewing since a contentious bunker ruling in the 28th minute. With the scores locked at 6-all, Ash Taylor found Brenko Lee with a brilliant ball, before Don finished it off back on the inside to score what appeared to be a fair try.

Referee Peter Gough sent the decision upstairs as a try, but that ruling was overturned by the bunker.

“Ash Taylor has caught the ball on the inside of the lead runner,” the bunker official said

“It has no impact does it? On the defensive line, but the rules are the rules,” Nable’s companion Michael Ennis added.

Ash Taylor

Ash Taylor (Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)

And therein lies the problem. There are rules and then there are rules. The NRL is officiated on bogus jargon distant to the official rules. The terms ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ don’t feature in any rules I’ve seen and in this case no Rooster defender was obstructed from making a play.

The NRL’s extra layers to the obstruction rule continue to mount, each one another ambiguous step further from the context of the official intent.

It’s pedantic; it’s frustrating and along with the over ruling of other facets like the play-the-ball rob a contest of its spectacle. When was the last time a player kicked for touch from the referee’s mark? Probably never, but no one cares because its inconsequential – heaven help us if it’s next on the crackdown list.

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So back to the thumping blood vessels at Gosford last Saturday. Sure, I was upset with the early whistle that sucked the life out of the Titans’ resurgence, but I was hardly surprised. What set it apart from other contentious calls was Nable’s heartfelt summation of the NRL’s health, it buzzed inside my head for the rest of the evening.

If a footy lover behind a microphone on good coin can’t contain his emotions, then how long will we, the paying punters, continue to put out the rubbish?