How good was that? Footy is back. The Brisbane Broncos and Parramatta Eels put on an exhibition of rugby league on Thursday night as the NRL season relaunched in splendid fashion, although the final score, reading 34 points to 6 in favour of the blue and gold, may not tell that story.
The result almost didn’t matter for starved footy fans. It had been nine weeks since a ball was kicked in anger, and a couple since the teams went back to training.
All seemed right in the world again for a couple of hours as the teams ran out onto Suncorp Stadium, and while you could look at any number of big-name performances from the contest – whether that be the Brodie Croft kicking game in the first half, Maika Sivo’s miracle try, Junior Paulo’s incredible performance, or Dylan Brown’s excellent game – but it’s the six-again rule which was always going to dominate the discussion coming out of the game.
And while it might need more than one game to tell us exactly how good it’s going to be, based on the evidence presented thus far, it’s something worth persevering with.
The game was faster, the players were more fatigued, and it created a much better spectacle with the ruck actually policed properly by referee Gerard Sutton.
Whereas a referee would normally hesitate in blowing a ruck penalty because it might slow the game down far too much, none of that occurred on Thursday night, because it was only going to speed the game up and likely create more points.
In short, the rule seems to empower the referee the officiate to the rule book, which has long been a gripe for fans. Sure, referees need to have a ‘feel for the game’, but it’s no good having a feel for the game if that makes the ruck look like a joke, which it has on more than a few occasions over the years.
It may have also looked good because of the quality of rugby league being dished out by both teams in the first half, and Parramatta in the second, who deserve full marks for the magnificent game of rugby league they put on to reboot the competition.
The six-again rule took just a matter of minutes to become involved in the contest, with the Eels receiving two in the lead-up to their first try, where the fatigued defence allowed Marata Niukore to chop through like they weren’t even there.
It was also evident later in the first half when Croft made a splendid run to score in the corner, beating the defence from about 35 metres out.
While fatigue and pace of the game has been talked about as the main advantages of speeding the ruck up with this new rule addition, it will also advantage the little guys, create more attacking rugby league, and reward players for creativity, which defences simply won’t have the energy or composure to shut down like they normally would.
That is exactly what we saw in Croft’s try towards the end of the first half.
The other major impact the rule had was in cleaning up the ruck.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago when the rule was first announced that the aim had to be to get the players to buy in and clean up the ruck themselves, to do it because they were concerned with the potential penalty. It seems just that has happened.
It was one of the fastest games of footy that has been played in this competition for years, with both teams clearly peeling off tackles and refusing to wrestle as much as they once did, creating a spectacle for fans as creative players were able to have their way.
While the Broncos would have been fatigued during the second half regardless given the amount of defence they had to do – not helped by their ridiculously high error count – Reed Mahoney and Dylan Brown were allowed to have their way with the footy in hand, running off quick play the balls and a much faster ruck.
Parramatta will be thrilled with their performance though, no matter what rules were in place. Mahoney continues to put his hand up for a Queensland jersey, Junior Paulo played possibly the best game of his career, and Clint Gutherson was heavily involved throughout the contest.
The men in blue and gold came into the season with premiership potential written all over them, and Thursday night’s NRL season reboot has done nothing to dispel that theory.
For Anthony Seibold and the Broncos, there is work to be done, but it looked to be fitness which was their undoing, so they may well come good in a few weeks.
The six-again rule will change the game as we know it for the better, and with referee no worse than two – for now – it’s hard to argue with Peter V’landys, who seems to be on another winner.
Right now, though, we celebrate. Footy is back, and that’s all that matters.