NRL Rd 3 - Roosters v Rabbitohs
NRL Rd 3 - Roosters v Rabbitohs

Kent: Simple answer to NRL’s toughest question

After a weekend not only free of criticism, but filled with genuine praise, referees' boss Bernie Sutton sat down at his desk on Monday morning and logged in to his emails for the first big test.

For years, this is where the game lost the battle.

Coaches, whose primary interest is paying their mortgage, waged a small private war against the game's greater interests by sending Sutton and whoever preceded him a deluge of emails and complaints accompanied by video evidence.

If a coach believed a penalty should have gone his team's way in the 74th minute for an opposition hand on the ball in the play-the-ball, he sent in 48 clips from across the weekend where other teams got the penalty for hand on the ball and then asked, where was his penalty?

It was a guerrilla tactic. A cynical ploy designed to influence the interpretations down a certain path.

 

Expect boundaries to be tested under the new rules. Photo: AAP Image/Scott Barbour
Expect boundaries to be tested under the new rules. Photo: AAP Image/Scott Barbour

 

The NRL, without the bottle to tell the coaches to bugger off, adjusted and interpreted and tried to find a way to be consistent in their interpretation.

Yesterday Sutton logged in and found not one irate correspondence from a losing coach on either the winning or losing side.

The new rules had done their job, at least for the weekend, a long awaited shift to where the game should be heading.

What is so stunning is how it was surprisingly simple.

For years, many with a footy intellect much greater than the more recent inhabitants of League Central have campaigned to eliminate the wrestle and see the game return to a more fluid, flowing style.

The problem was how to get it done.

As Roosters coach Trent Robinson said one day when asked about the difficulty of eliminating the wrestle: "It's not like we can unlearn what we know."

 

Referee Ben Cummins talks David Klemmer through his decision. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Referee Ben Cummins talks David Klemmer through his decision. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

 

Entirely true.

But it ran counter to another coaching truth former premiership coach Chris Anderson, who said rugby league had a natural tempo that has been long forgotten.

The tempo was that a tackle should take about as long as it takes for a team to get back the 10m.

A good run earned a team the right to a quick play-the-ball and the chance to run at a defensive line still in retreat.

A good tackle earned the defence the right to a slower play-the-ball and for the defence to get an extra beat

But how to get there?

For years the campaign to restore flow to the game centred around reduction in interchange.

It would have worked, and still might.

Fatigue is the one quality coaches can't coach against. Tired players make mistakes, which is the key reason coaches campaign to keep the interchange high and the play-the-ball slow.

The weekend has changed it, though.

 

There is less chance to slow the game down. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
There is less chance to slow the game down. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

 

Matthew Johns, an early driver to bring the interchange down from 10 to six, saw enough over the weekend to holster his guns and say the game should wait to see how the two new rules introduced over the weekend's resumption, the single referee and the six-again rule, play out.

The remedies were countless.

There were an extra 32 tackles in each game, the ball in play longer. An average three more line breaks a game, the benefits of a defence under fatigue.

Another benefit, unrevealed in the statistics and perhaps the greatest, were the chances and half-chances saved by last gap defensive efforts.

Newcastle lost its two key playmakers within 10 minutes of kick-off in a team loaded with rookies.

Yet under the new laws, fit and committed to their defence, they were able to hang in and squeeze out an unlikely draw against Penrith.

 

The Knights showed how the game has changed. Photo: AAP Image/Dean Lewins
The Knights showed how the game has changed. Photo: AAP Image/Dean Lewins

 

At one point the Knights defended nearly 30 straight tackles on their defensive line.

The NRL could not have picked a better weekend to show itself at its best.

Even before Sutton worked through his empty inbox, though, he knew another absolute truth.

Coaches are already plotting against what they saw on the weekend.

The early tips are deliberately conceding penalties away from the ruck to slow the game down, markers not square, standing offside at the 10m.

All will be valued penalties and all will go against what the NRL was trying to achieve, all these efforts to make the game as entertaining as it once used to be.

Sutton and his Untouchables are onto it, though, and have just the weaponry ready for the fight.

They have the sin bin, available and ready to be used.

Originally published as Kent: Simple answer to NRL's toughest question



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