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Opinion

NRL rule tweaks here to stay as Broncos pick up deserved spoon

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Expert
24th September, 2020
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Rule changes were brought in to trial, but try telling Broncos’ fans their loss to the Cowboys in the Round 20 opener was of no importance to anyone.

For the first time in their long, storied and in a lot of ways, glorious history, the Broncos have their first-ever wooden spoon.

Well, provided the Panthers don’t beat the Bulldogs by 177 points. So, you know, it’s as good as locked in.

But in more serious terms, the Broncos do deserve the last spot on the ladder. Their season has slumped from one disaster to the next, and while injuries played their part, the post-mortem isn’t going to be pretty at Red Hill.

The fact they conceded a ridiculous 624 points across 20 games tells you all you need to know. There was barely an effort made at that end of the park, and if a team doesn’t commit there, the chances of winning are nil.

By the time it’s all said and done, they have won just one out of the 18 games since the restart. Forget Broncos history, it’s one of the worst losing streaks in NRL history, putting them right up there against those Newcastle Knights teams who were cellar-dwellers of the competition for many years.

Whichever coach they sign for the 2021 season – supposedly it’s down to Kevin Walters and Paul Green – has a mountain of work to do.

And no matter which way Brisbane go, if it is one of those coaches, they will be taking a massive punt. Do they go with a coach who has never been tested at the first-grade level, or one who made a grand final with Johnathan Thurston and another on the back of an inspired six week run at the end of 2017, but has otherwise underachieved with a decent squad at the Cowboys?

It’s ironic that Green’s former side were the ones to send the Broncos hurtling to the spoon last night in a game that, while entertaining, proved once and for all why both teams were in the spoon race at various points this season.

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Brisbane Broncos players look dejected

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

The skill simply wasn’t there, and neither was the defence or willingness to commit on the goal-line. It’s a trend which has followed both teams around like a bad smell throughout the season and was evident on Thursday evening in Brisbane.

We have already talked about Brisbane’s appalling defensive intensity and effort this season, but the Cowboys weren’t a great deal better, conceding 26 points per game to finish with the second-worst record.

Sometimes stats don’t tell the whole story, but for the two teams with the worst defensive records, and the worst-for-and-against numbers in the competition, it does.

It would have been an almost outright crime if the Bulldogs were to pick up the spoon. At the very least, what they give up for in talent, they make up for in giving it their all week-in and week-out. That is more than can be said for the Broncos, who outright clocked off in defence more times than anyone could remember.

Last night’s game might have been entertaining to the neutral observer, but it was hardly a classic Queensland derby we have come to expect over the years.

Both of these sides need rapid improvement in 2021, and while they have the talent to do so with the right coach and additions, neither club’s decision-making of late gives any reason to think they will get it right. That should be a major cause of concern to fans in the sunshine state, who might be getting on a collective Titans bandwagon at this time next year.

While the Broncos receive the spoon and both sides go about rebuilding their rosters, the NRL will also be discussing whether to keep last night’s rules in place moving forward for 2021.

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We will get another look at them in the other “meaningless” game this weekend between Manly and the Warriors on Sunday, but on the surface, the changes appear to work well and with some tweaking, could be part and parcel moving forward.

While the scrums don’t need fixing, rather, just removing from the game altogether for all the good they do, the bunker and six-again rule changes will work.

Payne Haas

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Coaches in this sport always seem to find a way around any rule change brought in. This year, it was the deliberate nature of teams standing offside so they could get a penalty blown, rather than giving away another six tackles for a ruck infringement.

For years, teams would wrestle the living daylights out of one another and know that, worst-case scenario, there would be a chance to reset the line. That disappeared from Round 3 onwards, but of course, coaches found the loophole with teams regularly offside.

Well, the NRL have worked out how to shut that through with more six-again rulings, and it should create, in the long-term, a more free-flowing, open game of rugby league where the better teams rise to prominence because they are indeed the better team. And that, frankly, is the way it should be.

The other change is a time-saving exercise, but with referees still able to refer no try decisions to the bunker, it will work a treat.

Tries being referred while the conversion is being set up could save in the vicinity of one to two minutes per occurrence, which keeps the momentum flowing in the game.

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It has worked in rugby union for years, and there is absolutely no reason it can’t work in rugby league, so long as the bunker and match officials have the power to stop a player taking a quick conversion should the decision not have been made yet in the bunker.

That is the only fault in the rule, but as long as a provision along those lines is added, there is no reason it can’t work long-term for the betterment of the sport we all love.