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Hey Robbo - without competition for the ball, league can be formulaic and predictable

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Expert
15th August, 2019
66
1214 Reads

Trent Robinson is off chops.

Cracker of a footy coach. Indeed, if Craig Bellamy is the best – and he is, every year, doesn’t matter if Des or Ricky or Pay Day Deano coaches the Bad News Bears into the eight where they go out in the preliminary as the season’s dead fairytale, no, Craig Bellamy is coach of the year – then Trent Robinson is No.2.

And he is off his nut. Because the one-man stripping rule is a ripper.

It’s not for coaches because they want things clean, and crisp, and complete. They don’t like anomalies. They don’t like mess.

But rugby league needs anomalies. Greg Inglis? Anomaly. Big Mal Meninga? Anomaly. The fact Cameron Smith has the body of a weasel and can up-end and twist huge men’s bodies, hearts and mind? An. Om. Al. Ee.

And rugby league needs more of ’em. It needs more competition for the ball, not less. Because without scrums or striking out at the ruck, there is none. There is only wait until the other team gives it to you.

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And thus rugby league can appear formulaic.

There was a time when the play-the-ball was a genuine play of the ball. You could play it forwards or backwards. And so could your opponent, the man on the mark.

Ray Price and Graeme Wynn and go back to George Piggins and Noel Kelly and that sepia-toned old bad boy who became an Immortal, him, in the headgear, these people would launch great thundering whacks at the ball, in boots with studs six inches long, and they’d do it whether they had the ball or not.

And the ball would do what the egg-shaped Steeden would.

Which is to say whatever physics said it must. And no-one knew what that would be.

And that, friends, was a good thing.

But administrators and suits and whoever makes these decisions, in their wisdom, decreed that hacking at the ball in the play-the-ball was too messy. It didn’t look good. It didn’t look clean. So much ambiguity, it made them sick.

Referee Matt Cecchin during the 2017 NRL Grand Final match between the Melbourne Storm and the North Queensland Cowboys.

(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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Accursed ambiguity.

It was the same with scrums. Rather than tighten them up and make them a contest and tire forwards out ever more, they gave forwards – or whoever rests their head on another man’s bum – a rest.

The scrum today, instead of being a contributor to attrition, is the opposite of that. It’s where players go to bludge.

And another layer of gladiatorial attrition was lost.

And it is another story. And league is worse for it. Fact. And just because some people don’t like mess, and ambiguity.

But these people are wrong. A game isn’t bad because it’s messy. Messy is good. Messy is story. And story, people, is why we actually watch the blessed games of man.

What’s going to happen? What twists and turns in the narrative? What in god’s name is the Steeden going to do?

There is little story in carting the pill up five times and then kicking it. We’ll, there is a story – but you know what’s going to happen.

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Where’s the fun in that? It’s a shit story if you know the end.

Yet coach Robbo reckons stripping takes away from the spectacle of the game, by which, one assumes, he means the entertainment value.

Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson arrives to address media during a press conference in Sydney

(AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

But he is, respectfully, as stated, off his very chops.

Changeovers in possession are highly entertaining. Coaches like Robbo hate them because completed sets are the building blocks of domination and subjugation of one’s enemies along with several other things too numerous to mention here, but in which he and Craig Bellamy are Zen Masters.

The term ‘completions’ is against entertainment. It’s a bureaucrat’s word, speaking to nice, neat sets of six.

The worst rugby league is bang-bang-bang, big men fill legislated, allowed yardage. Then there is a kick. And repeat.

But the stripping rule, such that it is, puts a spanner in those works. And the story changes. Because the story goes off on an unexpected tangent. And the only people who don’t find that entertaining are those whose team it goes against.

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Everyone else? You beauty! Something new in the narrative. Something funky.

The best rugby league is harem-scarem – offloads, knock-backs (remember them?) and, yes, changeover in possession for something other than going over your allotted amount of tackles.

Stripping – as the poor, disrespected scrum once did – changes the narrative. Jazzes it up.

Of course there is nothing to stop the player with the ball hanging onto the bloody ball, and preventing sneaky Englishmen taking off with it like our forefathers in London before being shipped off to Van Diemen’s Land. Just as there is nothing to stop the player offloading to a team-mate and keeping the party going.

Rugby league too often leans to the neat, the unambiguous, the formulaic. The game hates mess. But, again, mess is good. Because it doesn’t follow rules.

The game has always evolved. It’s not been afraid to change. And changing the game back to the one in which there was no competition for the ball would be a retrograde step.

Because, sorry Robbo, the story is why we watch.

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