In 2018, the NRL pledged it would empower referees to enforce a penalty crackdown with a particular focus on repeated goal-line infringements and increased use of the sin bin.
In March of that year, buoyed by supportive comments from then-Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett, NRL Head of Football Brian Canavan described the approach as “pain now and gain later”, suggesting the league’s efforts would be permanent and well worth a brief period of high penalty counts.
But the crackdown was short-lived with the NRL backing down on its commitment in June after scathing criticism from Andrew Johns and a handful of other high-profile media figures.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg placed most of the blame on the referees, saying he no longer wanted them to go “looking for penalties” but rather to “police those areas we have tasked them to do and allow the game to flow”.
Now, almost one year after the NRL reconsidered its approach, are we back to the same problems that justified such a crackdown in the first place?
Roar rugby league Expert AJ Mithen joined us on the Game of Codes podcast to discuss why the NRL needs to bring back the penalty crackdown – and stick with it – to prevent players slowing down the ruck and abusing goal-line infringements.
Bennett made his frustrations clear at a post-match press conference following the Rabbitohs’ eight-point win over the Bulldogs on Good Friday, claiming referees still don’t punish players harshly enough for abusing the rules in the play the ball area.
“You all saw today, that had a huge impact on the game, what was going on in the play the ball area,” the South Sydney coach said during the post-match press conference.
“I’ve never been in an era of the game when the players are less compliant, they stretch everything they possibly can on the field. That puts more pressure on the referees. It’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact. Today was the worst I’ve seen.
“Because they’ve tried to have less penalties and less downtime, the players are abusing it.”
Listen to the discussion in the player below as we debate whether Bennett’s comments are on the mark and how the NRL’s decision to step back from its penalty crackdown last year has impacted the 2019 season.