Attitude and defence is said to be the key to winning NRL premierships.
For some reason or another though, despite all the one-sided floggings, all anyone wants to do is blame the rules. But has anyone actually questioned these teams at the bottom, their commitment, attitude and defensive structure?
No, seriously. Has anyone actually thought about it? While every man and his dog sticks the boot further into Peter V’landys and the NRL over the blowouts this season, does anyone really think it would be that much different if the rules changed back to their former concepts?
Or would we then go back to whinging about slow play and wrestling while the bottom half of the ladder struggled for traction anyway?
Because as NRL fans, we have been there and done that. I’ve long been one of the biggest fans of the six-again to speed up play, and while both Tim Gore and AJ Mithen have penned pieces on The Roar in the opposite direction this week, I’m going to stand up for it.
Of course, AJ and Tim aren’t the only ones, and it feels like everyone who writes, talks or comments on the game is out for blood.
I’ll acknowledge the rules aren’t perfect, but they are better than what they were. The reason we are where we are right now is that the talent, attitude and coaching gap between those teams at the top and those at the bottom is so large.
The bottom line is this. The NRL was always going to be top-heavy and miserable at the bottom this year.
Never before have we come into a season with a vast majority agreeing virtually on the groups that would make up the ladder. That no one was going to touch the Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers at the top.
That the Sydney Roosters, Parramatta Eels and South Sydney Rabbitohs would make up the next few. That the next group of teams could have a sheet thrown over them, and that at the bottom, the Canterbury Bulldogs, Brisbane Broncos and Wests Tigers would sit.
That was going to happen no matter what the rules, and while the size of the blowouts may be increased by the rules we are playing under, I’ve got no hesitation in saying this is preferable to the days of slow play the balls and wrestling.
With that gone from the game, and fatigue very much brought in, it allows the best teams to rise to the top. It allows the best players to once again have their way, with the little blokes once again having a chance to shine. Nowhere is that more apparent than at the Panthers, where Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary have gone to a whole new level this year.
While the gap in class has been made worse by the speed of the game, you can’t tell me that none of these blowouts would be happening in the old style.
The key examples are those games that do end up 50-0 or a score in that realm.
Take the Wests Tigers up against the Melbourne Storm on the Sunshine Coast last Saturday for example. Now, you can’t very well tell me the fact the Tigers were down 30-0 after 18 minutes was a result of the rules.
No, it was a result of a side that didn’t want to be there. They didn’t want to defend, and then dropped the ball when they did have it.
Sure, that may be an anomaly in just how bad it was, but the trend of teams not defending with any sort of attitude or effort is following the NRL around like a bad smell this year.
In fact, the way the game is being played is more of an argument against expansion anytime soon than changing the rules back to their former self, where the rugby league world will go straight back to whinging and moaning about things.
And while some will point to the other blowouts, there is just a general lack of discipline and attitude from so many teams, to go with the already obvious rapid drop in talent from the top five to the rest.
While yes, momentum is hard to get back under these rules, it can be done. Manly certainly did it against the Titans on Sunday, and contrary to the belief it was one half one team and one half the other, that is again, on the Titans.
It’s not the rules’ fault the Titans decided never to come out of the halftime sheds after getting who knows what sort of speech from Justin Holbrook.
Moving beyond those teams at the bottom of the table, you only have to look at the Roosters and their performances to know it isn’t the rules.
This is a club that have been rocked by injuries more than any other. They were missing both their starting halves, have spent time without James Tedesco, Brett Morris has retired and a handful of their forwards have also missed time.
No side in their right mind missing that much talent should be challenging for the eight, but here we are, and the Roosters are doing more than just challenging.
It goes to show that, with the right coaching and attitude towards defence, it is actually possible to get into the grind under these rules to find a result.
I’ll acknowledge things aren’t perfect, but this is the step the game had to take to stamp out the absolute epidemic of wrestling that had defined the way it was played.
Teams will adapt, and so will coaches. It might take time, but the proof is there. It can be done.
2021 was going to be a mess anyway based on the gaps in talent, to the point it wouldn’t matter if we slowed the game down to walking pace only.
But it’s not. This is the game we now have.
We best get used to it.