I hold my hands up and admit it: I was wrong. I’ve had to say it quite a bit recently, particularly in light of England’s thus far abject performances at Euro 2020.
But having witnessed South Sydney’s dismemberment of Brisbane, amusing as it was for this Bunnies fan, I can no longer support the six-again rule.
This is an all-the-more pertinent point in the aftermath of a thrilling French Championship final. The game was played without the set restart rules, and Lezignan pipped Carcassonne 16-12 in a gripping, nip-and-tuck fixture.
I was reminded of what the game could be without the 2021 officialdom update.
I was a very early fan of the six-again rule.
Beforehand, penalties would be rewarded for ruck infringements at the play-the-ball, and failure to retreat ten metres. Now, we see continuous sets, with attacking sides afforded greater advantages positionally and athletically.
Coming out of lockdown 1.0, I was simply thrilled with the prospect of live sport.
Maybe it was the intervening dearth of action, but with the six-again, the game seemed more appealing. It was higher octane, and more rewarding of skill over brute force and gamesmanship.
The 28-point margin of victory by Parramatta over Brisbane, while hardly unknown, perhaps should have set early warning lights off, but alas.
Even up to the start of this season, I was defending its place in the game. With the rule having graduated to ‘permanency’ over tis 2020 ‘trial’ status, I brushed over some of the opening round blowouts.
I believed that, with time, sides would adjust to play ‘properly’ and reduce the number of advantages afforded to the offensive side. They would simply relearn and get used to it.
How wrong I was.
If anything, the inverse has occurred.
Smarter sides (cough, Melbourne, cough) have learnt how to utilise the rulebook to their advantage to win greater possession and refereeing decisions.
As the season progresses, we are seeing sides not only failing to learn, but being excessively punished.
Extra fatigue compared to the victorious sides compounds their predicament, resulting in blowout score lines and tiredness rolling over week on week.
The idea of a move to fewer penalty calls and more in-play action seemed logically appealing.
Penalties disjoint the flow of play, breaking the fluidity of action. But maybe that break in action is what’s needed.
Rugby league is already one of the toughest and most demanding sports to play. These rules effectively push the athletes further, beyond what they have spent years adjusting their bodies to.
Pushing players beyond their cardiovascular output over 80 minutes results in complete fatigue, allowing dominant sides to run up greater score lines and blowouts that please no one.
You don’t need to be a statistician to observe the quantity of high-margin victories.
Of course, we still have low-scoring, tight games. Just this weekend we had a narrow 10-6 Newcastle victory over New Zealand. But the decimation of Queensland in Origin 1, while not attributable entirely to the six-again rule, certainly was a factor in the scale of the Maroons’ loss.
If Origin players, the gold-standard in rugby league ability, are struggling to maintain the pace, then what hope for lesser mortals?
Maybe in time the new rule will yield the desired changes in teams.
But for the moment, it would be the height of misplaced ignorance to carry these rules to the World Cup.
If NRL sides are being trounced on a weekly basis, then what hope do minnows and tournament debutants have against seasoned accustomed Antipodean opposition?
These are the current de facto international laws, but it is not too late to change.
The game from France demonstrates that rules don’t have to be universally applied globally to the letter.
Australia is the only country with two-point drop goals, and it’s a rule that won’t be introduced internationally.
Surely, it would make sense to likewise omit this other Australian addition to the rules.
Not only to avoid further exacerbating differences in abilities between nations, but also out of fairness to those players around the world who have not become accustomed to the new laws.