Right. So, that Roosters trainer on the field in the grand final. Yeah, we need to pick that apart. And I think I have a great long-term solution for the NRL to apply.
In a nutshell: no trainers on the field.
Because why the hell do grown men who spend their entire professional lives learning to be the best rugby league players in the world need someone holding their hands when they take the field?
My rugby league career lasted three years, playing for the South Newcastle Lions in the Under 10s, 11s and 12s.
I was horribly uncoordinated (still am) and had a tendency to overthink situations (still do) – should I run out of the line and tackle this kid? Which shoulder is going to be more effective? Is my body set for the correct technique? Is…whelp, doesn’t matter anymore, while I was doing all that thinking he ran past me.
My coaches did their best to help me and my teammates overcome our deficiencies at training during the week, but come Saturday morning, it was just us out there on the field.
Of course, the Under 9s and younger players had their coaches on the field with them, because they needed a bit of extra help.
Not us ten-year-olds though. We did it on our own.
We were big boys.
Yet somewhere along the way, rugby league players reverted back to their junior days, needing their coach (or a coaching surrogate) out there to tell them what to do.
And let’s not kid ourselves, that’s exactly what Travis Touma was doing on the field in the 2019 NRL grand final when the ball struck his head, leading to the Roosters receiving six more tackles and ultimately scoring the first try of the decider.
While officially Touma was there to either “attend to an injured player, carry water, or deliver individual messages”, he was actually on the field barking orders at the players.
I’m not having a go at the Chooks either – as Tim Gore has repeatedly stated for many, many years (the man deserves a Walkley – Daniel Jeffrey, I’m looking at you Boss Man, put our boy Pork up for some kind of major gong) every NRL team does it.
And it’s embarrassing.
Seriously, what professional sporting code decides that their players are so sore, thirsty or stupid that they need trainers on the field with them 90 per cent of the time?
And those poor-ass reasons are the defined causes that allow trainers to enter the field of play – as stated above, they’re there to “attend to an injured player, carry water, or deliver individual messages”.
Deliver individual messages? How about they’ve had an entire week at training to hammer messages into the players’ brains, to say nothing of the months and years these blokes have spent playing the game at the top level.
Add the fact there are eight interchanges per match – players talk to one another y’know – and a halftime break, and there’s plenty of time for the coach to get messages to his charges.
Carry water? Look, hydration is obviously important, but maybe we only allow water to be brought onto the field at breaks in play? The average NRL game has the ball in play for 53 minutes, which means there are 27 minutes’ worth of opportunities for players to receive a quick squirt of H2O, as well as halftime. That’s an average of a mouthful every three or so minutes.
Is it beyond the pale that water doesn’t go out any more frequently? I mean, I know when we won the Under 11 grand final – I was part of the winning team, I made a contribution, you can all shut up – we only got water at breaks in play.
Perhaps if chubby 11-year-olds can do it, full-time athletes have enough stamina to last three minutes between hydration breaks?
Finally, trainers attend to injured players. I get that. Of course.
But if a player isn’t so hurt that they need to leave the field of play, then the trainer can attend to them away from the game.
My proposal is that if a player is injured, they should go down in backfield, be attended to, and only once the trainer has left the field of play can the ‘injured’ player re-join the game.
It’s a 13-a-side code. Is it really such a crazy idea that we only allow 13 able-bodied people on the field for each team at any given time?
I’m often told that I don’t know what it’s like because I was never – ever – a full-time footy player. And for sure, there are aspects of the sport that I can’t fathom, having not played it past the age of 12.
But I did play it as a kid. And for those three years, my teammates and I – as well as our opponents – all managed to get on without someone out on the field telling us what to do.
Yet somewhere between the Under 12s and the professional ranks of the NRL, players went backwards and needed a voice in their ear to tell them how to play the game.
In Under 10s, we would watch the nine-year-olds play before us and quietly snigger at the babies who needed a coach to hold their hand and tell them what to do.
Here’s the real joke: that’s exactly what top-flight NRL players receive.
It needs to stop. Trainers should be barred from the field of play except to administer assistance to injured players.
Because big boys don’t need someone holding their hand to tell them how to play a game of footy.