At the start of the year, I declared that if Brad Arthur could not get the Parramatta Eels past Week 2 of the finals, then it might be time to say thank you to their head coach and look elsewhere.
In 2020, the restart to the NRL season on May 28 saw a raft of rule changes that shaped the game dramatically, notably the highly-praised six-again rule which was introduced to generate more free-flowing and unstructured rugby league and the return to a single referee.
To the delight of fans, the NRL also introduced a captain’s challenge system for general play, a mutual infringement rule whereby any interference from a referee, trainer or spectator (streakers) will see the previous play restart rather than a fresh set of six to the territorially advantaged team, as well as giving teams the choice of where to pack scrums on the field.
The random and seemingly pointless rule of 2020 saw the introduction of the 20/40 kick which was unsurprisingly executed zero times last season (probably due to it being such a high risk-low reward move), but there always seems to be at least one rule of this calibre each season.
Nevertheless, these rules, for the most part, are legitimate game-changers and are crucial to the ever-evolving game of rugby league going forward. So in 2021, the NRL conjured up another batch of rule changes that they believe will make for a better product for players and fans.
The question is, will they work?
Two points for field goals outside 40 metres
No. Seems like a pointless rule change that will be as useless as the 20/40 rule. No doubt there is a higher chance teams will have a crack at kicking one at the death of the first half or full-time hooter rather than attempt a 20/40, but we’ll be lucky to see one kicked this year. If I was a betting man, my money would be on Adam Reynolds to kick the first-ever official two-point field goal.
Six-again for ten-metre infringements
Maybe. If the referee blows penalties for repeated infringements and utilises the sin-bin for excessive infringements and professional fouls then it could work. My worry is that this rule change may tip the scales heavily in favour of the attacking team, meaning teams will have more possession of the ball which may result in a rise in blowout scores. I love the six-again rule, but this addition to that rule may be a little too much.
Play the ball when finding touch
Yes. A play the ball restart when the ball is kicked into touch or a player with the ball is taken into touch is a necessary change and will minimise time wasted in packing a scrum.
Yes. Despite calls to scrap the scrum, the NRL felt they are apart of the game’s DNA and wanted some credibility returned to them. Modern rugby league has seen the scrum turn into a pointless group hug, with minimal tactics being utilised surrounding them and a 99.99 per cent strike rate of the feeding team receiving the ball.
Nevertheless, recent tweaks to choose where a scrum is conducted have benefited the attacking team and the newest tweak for the referee to call “break” after the ball has been distributed will deter teams from unpacking the scrum too early, giving the outside backs a decent opportunity for one play. Any team breaking too early will be penalised.
If scrums are to remain in the game then this rule gets the green light.
Handover for an incorrect play the ball
Yes, and my favourite rule change. The fundamental rule of the attacking player using their foot to play the ball after being tackled has been an area policed very inconsistently over the years. I believe a major reason to this was the fact that the punishment for an incorrect play the ball meant a penalty to the defending team, which may have been viewed as too harsh considering how many times players would play the ball wrong.
Just like the six-again rule, a handover for an incorrect play the ball will serve as sufficient punishment that referees will utilise more often to swiftly correct these inconsistencies.
Captain’s challenge amendment
Yes. It makes perfect sense for a team to retain their challenge for inconclusive evidence. Definite no-brainer.
Bunker review amendment
Probably. If a referee believes a try has been scored then they will immediately award it, with the bunker reviewing it in the lead up to the conversion attempt. This tweak will provide fans excitement without the anticlimax of having the try reviewed before being awarded. The only downside would be when the try has been overturned as the conversion is being lined up, consequently proving each try to be a false sense of hope until the conversion has been given the green light. Either way, this rule change should work provided the bunker doesn’t rush their decisions.
Yes, and another favourite rule change. When a trainer calls for play to be stopped due to injury then the injured player must be interchanged or sit-out for a period of two minutes, leaving one fewer player on the field for that time. This will put an end to trainers impacting the run of play in a game and instead utilise their stoppage powers for major injuries only.
The NRL have taken a common-sense approach here and I believe the implementation of these new rule changes will be for the betterment of rugby league for both players and fans.
Over to you, Roarers.