Picture a sport beset by predictability, wrestling with its identity and relevance to future audiences.
Scoring opportunities are created via a few dependable methods, people know what’s coming and they’re tuning out. In an attempt to bring fans back, administrators bring in a rule change aimed to “give the smaller player a chance to score and open up the defence to make the game more enjoyable for the fans.”
No, this isn’t rugby league. It’s basketball.
The NBA adopted the 3-point rule in 1979, following its implementation in college basketball and the American Basketball Association (ABA) around a decade earlier. The game was struggling, dominated by tall players who would continually take the easy two points close to the basket. Shooting from further away, generally a smaller player’s expertise, had a lower success rate with the same reward.
Fast forward to today and three-pointers are increasingly part of building basketball scores. Attention on the NBA as a spectacle has grown substantially too.
Is it time for rugby league to follow suit?
Scoring opportunities in league now come from a few key areas: from sustained pressure on the line and an out-the-back/hit-short-runner or via a measured kick behind a set defensive line. Particularly with games featuring two defensively strong (which also usually means highly-placed) teams, there are only a few ways to score, with most of them within “good ball” in the 20-metre area.
If I were to survey league and non-league fans, asking them what gets their blood racing, which video clips made them gasp, get excited and “be engaged,” I would bet the long-range try features very highly. What of James Roberts’ solo effort against the Roosters last season? Speed, uncertainty (“will he make it, will he make it”), redemption.
It was glorious.
Notwithstanding that it was sent upstairs to check a) grounding b) potential obstruction c) relative humidity, it was pure joy.
League is a game of numbers. People won’t risk secure, tested ways of doing things for unpredictability. No club is willing to be a Petri dish for the Walker Brothers’ experiments. There isn’t an “entertainer” culture like in soccer, where stylish yet ultimately unsuccessful teams are celebrated (eg. Dutch World Cup team of 1974.) You are lauded if you win.
And to win you need to score more points than you concede. The problem is a scummy try off a bomb gives you the same points as a try off a chip-and-chase on halfway.
So let’s recalibrate to incentivise attack from every tackle, not just the fourth or fifth. Imagine tries being scored all over the park. Let’s have our three-point moment: tries scored from inside your own half count for six points. Get the ball to your Ben Barbas, Matty Bowens or Billy Slaters, and watch the interest rise.