Did we just break the NRL?
We're just one round into the new season and already fans are voicing concerns that rule changes implemented in 2021 may be altering the game too drastically.
Last year the NRL unveiled a suite of rule changes introduced with a view towards "less stoppages, more unpredictability and increased excitement for our fans".
Last season's "six-again" rule for ruck infringements sped the game up considerably and rugby league bosses have gone even further this year. Being offside within 10m now results in six more tackles, rather than a full-blown penalty, while scrums have been ditched in favour of play-the-balls when the ball or a player goes over the sideline.
However, faster doesn't necessarily equal better.
Speaking on Triple M radio on Saturday, former NSW prop Mark Geyer said it was a slippery slope if officials prioritised speed above all else.
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"In the last 10 years we seem to have so many changes in our game, rules-wise … and more in the last five or six years than we've had all over that period (of rugby league's existence)," he said.
"I like the things from last year … with the six-to-go, the captain's challenge - I think they're great for the game.
"We've just got to be careful we don't go too far over the edge and turn it into touch footy or Oztag when it's just tap and go, tap and go, tap and go.
"We need some attrition in the game, we need as lot of attrition in the game. We also need some big names to not be dwarfed out of the game because they can't handle the pace."
Courier Mail rugby league writer Travis Meyn also expressed concerns about how fast the game has become while watching the Warriors beat the Titans on Saturday afternoon.
"I'm not sure if @NRL players can keep up this sort of pace for 80 minutes every week over 25 rounds," he tweeted. "The game is so fast that fitness is going to play a huge part in this season. #NRLWarriorsTitans."
NRL podcaster Matt Bungard criticised the six-again rule and the "error-riddled, sluggish garbage" he saw on Saturday, adding: "I don't see how we stay like this for a whole season."
Twitter user Jack Cronin also agreed, suggesting the frenetic speed of the game hampers the attacking side as much as the defending team.
Is the goal of the new rules to make defensive lines look like a touch game with teams making huge metres but being too fatigued to actually do anything at the end of sets? pic.twitter.com/pqtI7DBJPD— Jack (@jackkcronin) March 13, 2021
The feedback comes after players struggled to keep up during pre-season trials. One Parramatta player said he "couldn't breathe" in a game against Penrith, such was the intensity of the game under the new rules, while Eels coach Brad Arthur also made mention of how much quicker the match was.
However, there's also a school of thought it's natural for players to be struggling for match fitness at the beginning of a new season after several months off, and they'll adjust to the new conditions in the weeks to come.
The NRL doesn't believe there's a problem, head of football Graham Annesley saying the ball has actually been in play less in round one than it was, on average, last season.
"The fears of the game being massively faster than last year haven't eventuated," Annesley said, per the Courier Mail. "We have seen less ball-in-play and it's been no faster or more continuous than it was last year at this stage.
"Stats need to be monitored over a period of time, not a couple of games. No one has played themselves into match fitness yet and it is hot.
"There is a perception things are different based on the rule changes but we're not seeing that statistically."
Originally published as Did we just break the NRL?