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Opinion

What exactly is the field goal change designed to achieve?

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Roar Guru
15th December, 2020
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1155 Reads

Rule changes in and of themselves are not a bad thing.

They are what turned a class war within rugby union into the game of rugby league we know and love today. From upping the tackle count to six, to more recent innovations like six-again and the stop watch, we should never be afraid of innovating to make the game more appealing.

In kicking up a fuss and giving us league fanatics something to talk about during the three-month hibernation, it has succeeded in generating headlines and interest during the dark season (side note: for any curious Australian onlookers, look into Super League’s selection process for the 2021 12th side for a world of backroom politics and boardroom shenanigans that not even I could touch).

But for what? These latest changes are simply confusing, unnecessary and contradictory in their aims. There was some conversion of 2020’s temporary laws to be permanent, but the one that really irks me is the long-distance field-goal classification. There is no point, let alone two from 40 metres out (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Adam Reynolds

Adam Reynolds is a master of the field goal. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

There’s the obvious, internationalist argument that such rule changes undermine the global unity of the sport, diverging the nature and scoring of the game between hemispheres, widening the legalistic chasm between the domestic and the international.

The British game and the international game haven’t signed up to these rules, but if they eventually do, there’s not a chance in hell that they would have been consulted about the original catalyst. It’s not as if this is an insignificant change either: it alters the complexion of scoring, one of the most basic tenets of any sport.

But c’est la vie. The NRL is the most prestigious competition, Australia has the most participants, and the Antipodes drive viewing and commercial figures. That’s not to say I’d like to see a joint up approach, but until the international and northern hemisphere tournaments can offer more, then the Peter V’landys tail will continue to wag the rugby league dog.

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More than legalistic interpretations of whole-of-game rule changes, the new drop-kick arithmetic is the indulgence of folly: gimmick for gimmicks’ sake. Perhaps I move in different circles with more narrow attitudes: you don’t have to tell me that Bradford isn’t Bondi. But I know of no fan from any continent that was clamouring for such a change.

Sometimes sides will take a point on the verge of halftime to make their lead that bit more secure. If a cricket score is being amassed with the scoreboard running down, attempts at the sticks may be a crowd-pleasing (or irritating) novelty. And there is nothing more exhilarating than a 79th-minute kick to secure a last-gasp victory by the barest of margins.

The field goal is a great part of the game. But its otherwise low utility – resulting in scarcity, uniqueness and glory – risks being undermined in search of the equivalent of half a try.

I don’t want this to derail into a cross-code battleground, but while rugby union enters into its mission to make the game more appealing by borrowing some league contraptions, I don’t see the reasoning behind migrating towards a more unionist approach in rewarding kicks for goal over creativity in try scoring.

Nathan Cleary in action against the Melbourne Storm

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The reason that NRL HQ gave for such a change was that sides that don’t breach the 40 metres after five tackles will hardly ever create try-scoring opportunities from such a distance, and so tend to either kick for touch or boot it into the air, for the opposition to humbly restart after a brief interlude in action.

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And while I agree it can sometimes become quite monotonous, it is the entirely wrong solution for a problem exacerbated in the minds of the rule makers. Because if it is not used for a last-minute winner, or very select tactical reasons, the field goal is just as boring to onlookers.

The solution, if one really is needed, would ideally be to move away from the over-structured rigidity of NRL attacks. Five drives and a kick does become repetitive. Until recently, the game in England was played on a more off-the-hook nature (something you may see in the likes of Canberra’s players), which meant that even if the quality were worse, it could be more entertaining.

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If the DNA of the game needs such an overhaul, maybe the answer lies in providing NRL playmakers with more freedom of expression, the latitude to try audacious moves far away from the opposition line, even at the risk of a couple of metres of lost territory.

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Maybe I’m looking at this wrong: in spite of the above musings, I am willing to be open minded and give these new changes a go. The NRL have built up a residue of goodwill and trust to enable such a move – it’s such a shame that they’re blowing it on a needless sacrifice to the otherwise satisfied gods of entertainment.

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