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How 'transition basketball' helped the Panthers win the title in 2021 and why it won't this time around

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Expert
4th February, 2022
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For years rugby league has been compared to American football and their premier competition, the NFL. It makes sense, right?

Up and down the ground, trying to gain field position by passing, running or kicking with the end game being trying to accumulate more tries (or touchdowns) than the opposition.

There may be more in common but not worth mentioning here.

We have forever, in our sport anyway, heard desperate coaches, players and fans yearning to get ‘into the arm wrestle’ – a call for their side to compete for every inch and every blade of grass.

‘Win the arm wrestle and you’ll win the game,’ they said.

That all changed leading into season 2021 when the NRL dropped a bombshell that augmented the game completely.

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The six-again rule didn’t pull at the fabric of the code, it shredded it in a blender and poured the remnants all over our sorry heads.

It was an excuse to speed up the game and make the product even more entertaining (like it really needed such an extreme makeover).

The smarter clubs – who are generally already the top teams in the premiership anyway – quickly found loopholes bigger than Sydney Heads.

And while the Penrith Panthers may still have gone on to win the 2021 competition without the six-again law, the fact is, they were the most penalised side across the 16 teams for six-agains conceded.

The Panthers celebrate with the NRL Premiership Trophy

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The arm wrestle was that in name only last season and the NRL became less about winning field position and more like basketball and winning every single transition up and down the field, from attack to defence and so on and so on.

A definition of ‘transition basketball’ online suggests that “the purpose for a transition system is to take advantage of your opponent’s breakdowns while they are changing from offence to defence or from defence to offence. It is designed to take control of and lengthen the transition period. Openings will exist as your opponent is making the transition giving your team a great opportunity to take advantage of openings.”

A team, like the Panthers, who knew they would be going out there to purposely give away six-agains would gain a strong advantage as they reset their defensive line. In turn, the attacking side may have gained another tackle or two but were now disadvantaged.

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When the ball was turned back to a team like the Panthers, it was simply too hard to keep up and stop the avalanche.

If you’re trying to win a game of transition footy, it would certainly be beneficial to your cause if you were allowed to sacrifice a tackle if it meant you were really winning position up the field every time you did it.

The other positive in 2021 for sides that were giving away six-agains was that they really weren’t being penalised in any way. It just meant less quality football for the opposing team further back in their own half.

Nathan Cleary is chased.

(Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

Thankfully, the NRL on Wednesday announced changes to the controversial ruling, which will now see no six-agains awarded to a team coming out of danger at their own end.

It means a team will rightfully have the chance to boot their way down field with a penalty kick over the sideline.

Immortal Andrew Johns was happy to see an update to the rule.

“We’ll probably have to wait a few weeks, watch half a dozen rounds to see how it hinders or helps other teams,” Johns told the Wide World of Sports website.

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“It was a planned move, obviously, by Penrith.”

The best thing of all is that we will see more arm-wrestle footy in 2022 and while the transition battle will continue, at least it will be on a level playing field this time.

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