How do you fix a game that doesn’t acknowledge it requires fixing?
Moving into the second half of the NRL season, Australian rugby league is in a good place. We’ve got an Origin series going to a decider, a reduction in poor behaviour off the field and a competition throwing up upsets on a weekly basis.
However, there’s always room for improvement, right? There are a few things creeping into the game that the NRL would do well to sort out – just subtle improvements that would make the game even better to watch.
The first thing the NRL should do is to bring back the send-off rule for the grubbiest on-field acts. We’ve got a zero-tolerance policy for punches thrown and crusher tackles under plenty of scrutiny.
They pale in comparison to George Burgess’s eye gouge on Robbie Farah on Thursday night. In my opinion there was clear intent in Burgess’s action and there is simply no place for that in the game. Future junior participation numbers surely didn’t increase on Thursday night.
Hudson Young got five weeks for a similar offence and Josh McGuire somehow escaped suspension. With the referee on the spot, George Burgess should have been sent off.
The NRL needs to take a stand against the grubbiest acts on the field and send these players off just to send a message that these acts won’t be tolerated and will impact your team on the night itself.
Burgess seems likely to face a long suspension from the game. I’d argue that he should have started one week early.
I would also be looking at the one-on-one strip rule. This has always been a great part of our game to watch when a defender strips an attacker one on one. However, we’ve seen a change creeping in this year, particularly at the Melbourne Storm, where players drop off a two or three-man tackle with the last defender attempting a strip.
The Storm are very good at playing at the edge of the rules. The NRL should go back to the traditional one-on-one tackle – one defender from the start, not multiples.
Apart from the attacker subconsciously thinking the players are rolling away and it’s time to play the ball, an unsuccessful strip is just another way these teams are slowing down the opposition speed in the ruck. The wrestle is now happening standing up as well.
Talking about speed in the ruck, referees are not always consistent in their decision-making but are all 100 per cent aware of where the mark is in a penalty and are not willing to move an inch. There was a clear example in the Canterbury Cup game on Saturday where Penrith were given a penalty.
Penrith looked to take a quick tap and were what looked to be less than a metre to the side of where the mark was given. Sure enough, they were called back, the element of surprise was lost and they had no option but to kick for the sideline.
I can understand referees moving tackled players back to the mark, but for penalties let’s not be so nit-picky and just let the game run.
And finally, if we are looking to speed up the game, I’m looking at an area where my team, the Sharks, are masters. It’s the time wasting taking penalties when your team is ahead.
We have time clocks for dropouts, we have time clocks for scrums and we should have time clocks for penalties. They are not alone, but the Sharks are known to hold committee meetings when they are awarded a penalty and looking to run down the clock.
They should have no more than 20 seconds to decide whether they will shoot for goal or kick for touch. The penalty for a time breach wouldn’t need to be a reversal of the original penalty, more so a scrum feed to the opposition team should do the trick.
The game doesn’t need wholesale changes. However, to make our product even better, there are some subtle changes that should be made to the NRL.