There’s been a lot said about the speed of the game today and how it’s the cause of more player concussion and injury.
Yes, the game is faster, and that is key to rugby league surviving and thriving. The athletes are bigger, stronger, fitter and faster. It’s no different in any professional sport, from AFL to rugby union or tennis. It’s a new era.
The current rules are measured. The game that was played in the 1970s through to the 90s and even the 2000s has evolved to be faster, and this year the league has changed the rules again.
One is not better than the other. Faster? Harder? It depends where you are coming from.
Would I have liked to tackle Steve Roach at Leichhardt on a Sunday afternoon? Hell no. Would I like to tackle Nelson Asofa-Solomona as he offloads to Ryan Papenhuyzen to score under the posts in Round 4 of 2021? Hell no.
They are different generations, and I don’t know that one was tougher or harder than the other.
There is some suggestion the NRL has sped up to State of Origin speed. Origin was always been faster than matches of the regular season, which has often resulted in a higher injury rate to both sides.
Ben Hunt broke his leg this season and played on. Allan Langer broke a leg in the 1989 State of Origin. Shane Webcke carried a broken arm into the 2000 grand final.
Sam Burgess busted his cheekbone in the 2014 grand final. Reportedly James Graham said to Burgess words of the effect of, “Your face looks like a dropped pie, you’ve got to go off”. He remained on the field and the Bunnies won.
There has been a lot of mail about how games are further apart and the last close game was statically worse than last year or the year before. But it’s still Round 5. Let’s not judge too early. There are 20 rounds left this year. Trends change through the season as match fitness, skills and team cohesion improve and coaches adjust to the on-field conditions.
Yes, concussion is a major factor and a very serious one indeed. It’s being handled better than it ever has been. Player welfare is first and foremost, and the players have never been better looked after.
There are so many systems a player must abide by in order to stay on the field. We still see brain explosions and illegal behaviour despite there being cameras on so many angles showing spectators the indiscretions. Today we have a different culture.
We all need to accept that there are going to be collisions in rugby league. Attack and defence are going to be electric and heavy. The speed of the play is nothing new to any player under 22 years old. The six-again rule has ensured players are not stuck in the ruck with defenders wrestling them on to their backs.
It’s too early to predict whether the recent rules changes have been for better or worse.
Wait until finals footy comes and goes and we experience a fast and furious grand final. Only then can we have the case to argue for or against the rules and determine whether changes are necessary for 2022.