The Act of the Apostle: Some Rugby League Reforms

Filed in Other by on December 5, 2010

It has been a heavy week for The Sports Fan, one that would have left most down and out in Paris or Perth or even Penrith.

The NFL has reached its climatic conclusion and Peyton Manning now has a Super Bowl ring on one of his fingers and is now being talked of as being superior to Dan Marino and Brett Favre and by the end of the week, it will probably be agreed upon that Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw are just a slot or two below him. Shane Watson has been recalled to the Australian cricket side for no other reason than to irritate every red blooded Australian cricket fan with a sense of decency and an idea of what makes even an average cricketer.

We were spared this tragedy all summer but the gang of jokers and barbaric butchers who select the Australian cricket team couldn’t let it slide and decided to get their kicks by jamming a talent-less rummy down our throats once more. And that eyesore faux-sport that operates under the moniker of rugby union kicked off much to the severe displeasure of all Australians not born with a silver spoon in their gullet and a fence post in their ass. We can all just thank our Lord that severe administrative incompetence, laughable playing talent and an insane slate of playing laws are ensuring the game will be a long forgotten specter on the main stage of Australian sporting importance.

Depression fills the air and there is not a whole lot we can do about it aside from drink heavily and engage in something constructive like trainspotting or club-hopping or lengthy correspondence of an absurd nature with high ranking political figures.

And we will have to tread this shaky bridge until footy season. Until that first whistle is blown in NRL gusto, we are left with little else. The NFL is done. Cricket, for all intents and purposes, is over for the summer and probably has been since the first week of January. Australian tennis season came and went in the usual bluster. And no sane person would fill their time watching the spectacle that is modern rugby.

After some much-needed time off, the footy spark is back. The sense of desperation is back, the need to see top class rugby league action has returned. Like a scaled junkie crying on a dawn-lit street corner for his next hit, I am an addict. I crave rugby league action like Johnny Smackhead craves the rush.  We are all the same. We all need our kicks and some, like your highly-charged author, get them from an up-and-in defence and differential penalties.

But as another season approaches, for all the beauty and grandiosity of the game, there are some deficiencies that need to be mended. As a mouthpiece for the rugby league fan, an apostle of the game, it is my duty to make rugby league all it can be.

The first major issue worthy of severe condemnation is scheduling. There are just too many night games and not nearly enough day games. This season we are set for six night games per round, leaving only two day games, both of which will be played on Sunday afternoon. Night games are all good and well in places like Townsville and Brisbane but to play night games in places like Canberra and Melbourne does nothing but drive away fans. This is particularly true on Saturday evening, when those not shut down by the ties of illness, marriage or general weakness get social. The fact that there is no Saturday afternoon game, handing the slot to the AFL or women’s basketball, is a disgrace. Times may have changed since the glory years of Warren Boland and the ABC Saturday afternoon coverage but there is still a market for Saturday afternoon rugby league. David Gallop needs to show some of those reputed balls of his and get heavy with the television networks that appear to be running the game.

The NRL also needs to move back to a daytime grand final. The night grand final has been tried but the feeling of the game and the importance of the day is lost. What was once a day of celebration has turned into just another event, just another game of footy. This is wholly and directly attributable to the night finale. The one small mercy is that this season will see the return of the Sunday afternoon semi-final, after suffering a brutal and unjustified axing in 2006.

The role of the video referee is another area that really grinds the gears. A little definition would seem like simple logic but those pulling the strings don’t deem this to be necessary. A few ground rules need to be laid out with the most important being that they are not to view slow motion replays of double movements. The amount of screw-ups last year by the video referee was a black stain on the game, one that damaged the credibility of the entire competition.

On the field, the one word the NRL needs to look at is subjectivity. There have been so many refereeing dramas and the majority have been caused by the subjectivity and ambiguity of many rules, many which require the referee to determine intent. It is impossible for referees to get calls in regards obstruction, offside and knock-ons when there are no clear rules laid out and the referee has to slip into the mindset of the player to determine what the player was thinking. Some simple legislation laying out the rules, removing all areas where referees have to deal with player intent, like the propelling of the ball forward and the intent of the decoy runner, will make the rules simpler to enforce and send referee disagreement down into the belly of the monster.

A quick re-look at scrums may also be in order. Halfbacks, as a learned friend of the scrum and my good self, has promoted, should not be sent off for second-row feeds. But his point, to some degree, is fair. Scrum reform has fallen off the backpages, not as sexy as it once was. Nobody wants the quagmires of days gone by but some form of contest for the ball is certainly in order. One of the great shames of the modern game is the lack of contest for the ball- scrums and play-the-balls now being two remnants of the game that are unrecognizable from twenty years ago.

The NRL has made one positive move in the off season in rubbishing calls for the golden try to replace the golden point. The golden try would turn rugby league into a farce. The NRL, in all reality, should have abandoned the concept of golden point and reverted to the old draw. There was never anything wrong with a draw and it was often the fairest result. There is no need for extra time until the semi-finals are played.
Off the field, the NRL needs to re-examine two areas more than any other. First, the NRL needs to better balance the two competing requirements of talent re-distribution and club loyalty. Clubs are unfairly disadvantaged and loyal players are unfairly treated by the current system. Those with good recruiting practices and sound local junior investments are penalised under the current salary cap system with the incalculable cost being team loyalty and the fans are the ones paying the price. The other major issue is the draw. The length of the season is ludicrous and bordering on sadistic but that won’t change now or ever because of the money it draws. What the NRL can and should do, at the very least, is manufacture a draw that does not see teams playing each other twice within the first eight weeks and not playing others until August. That is not a hard request.

So there it is, hammered out for those hustlers at the NRL to take note of. This is the will of the common fan, a manifesto to better rugby league. Decent thoughts, at any rate.

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