Finally we have some real football. None of it counts towards the end result of the 2020 NRL season, but it was a welcome relief after a putrid summer of cricket to watch some decent 80-minute games.
Wait. Breathe. Count to three. Take a minute to cool down before you mash out a comment. Hey, feeling loose, maybe even read a few words?
Okay, so, what’s my problem?
Defence has become so organised, fit, structured, and disciplined that broken play is hard to find. And it’s unpredictability we crave – the seat-of-your-pants, off-the-cuff, ad-lib type of play. It fuels our hyphenated hyperbole.
I tune in on Sundays to see opposing regiments march in formation – first this way, then the next. It gets boring, banal, and predictable. The formula hardly waivers.
A few dummy-half runs, then one off the ruck, one to the edge, a thinly veiled sweep play, then it’s all kick-and-hope. They’re not the hyphens I’m looking for.
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By any metric you, the Bunnies are the best attacking team in the NRL, yet they only average around five line-breaks per game. Serve that with just four tries, many of which are from kicks, and you’ve got little more than two out-of-your-seat moments per half.
And herein lies my problem. I’m not sure how we manufacture more line breaks, but we need to honour these hard-earned plays with legitimate try-scoring opportunities.
That’s where we learn from union.
Like league, union players are coached to kill any break-out play. In either code, watch any clean break – tacklers are coached to hold down the ball carrier and slow the play.
In union, they’ll go off their feet and fall on the wrong side. In league, they’ll to work over the ball-carrier, then crowd in the paly-the-ball. Never back the ten? Never mind that.
But here’s the key difference. In union, the referee will continue the play under advantage. Hell, they’ll even compound them – giving the attacking team the opportunity to leverage their work. It’s a free crack with nothing to lose.
However, in league, the referee will blow the pea out of it – stopping the raid and rewarding the defence. And, until recently, this wasn’t even a card.
So why not play under advantage for the next tackle? Let’s see a quick shift against a retreating defence; a chip to the corner above a winger standing shallow; a face-ball past an edge defender who shoots up alone. Then infringe under advantage, and you’re hitting the pine!
These are the moments that get bums to stadiums, down onto seats, then up and out of them.
Perhaps we just have to face it: union got this one right.