Every coach in the world ‘trying to slow down opposition’ amidst cheat storm

James Gordon
Phil Clarke / Paul Wellens

Photos: News Images

St Helens coach Paul Wellens says there isn’t a coach in the world who isn’t trying to get players to win tackles, after Sky Sports pundit Phil Clarke accused the champions of cheating in their win at Huddersfield.

Clarke made the comments following Saints’ 14-12 win at the John Smith’s Stadium, where he accused them of deliberately slowing the game down.

Speaking live on Sky Sports post-match, Clarke said: “Maybe when they’re prepared to defend on their own try line, maybe one of the reasons why Huddersfield and other teams can’t score against St Helens is that they’d rather slow down the opposition and concede six more tackles in their belief that ‘we’ll defend, as long as it’s not quick, we can defend our try line for two minutes’.

“Maybe that’s something that the game’s administrators needs to look at.

“They played a game last year against Salford at the end where they effectively cheated at the end to win the match in the league match and called on the rulings to be tweaked that would result in stronger sanctions.

“I do think that the game needs to be stricter at penalising sides that are purposefully holding down players or concede penalties or six agains near to their own try line. We need to see more yellow cards for that type of behaviour.”

Wellens says: Look at the facts

It was a topic of conversation at St Helens’ weekly press conference this week, where Wellens gave a considered response.

The Saints head coach said he believed every club in the world is trying to do the same, and even pointed to the Opta stats that highlight how when in possession, St Helens have one of the slowest play the ball times in the competition, suggesting that others are doing exactly the same to them.

He said: “I don’t think there’s a coach in Super League, in the NRL, or anywhere in the world who isn’t trying to get players to win tackles and, in effect, slow down the opposition.

“There’s no coach who would prefer to concede a try than to give away a six-again, and we’re no different. We’ve got a group of players who work hard in that area.

“I like Phil, I’ve always respected him, and he’s got a right to his opinion. And that’s not changed. But I do think he was probably a little bit ill-judged, particularly when he used the word cheating.

“Because one thing that this team hasn’t done is cheat its way to success over the last few years.

“When we won the competition in 2021, we had the average slowest play the ball in the competition. In 2022, when we went on to win the competition, we had the slowest play the ball in the competition. And we currently sit joint last in terms of average play the ball speed again.

“I would ask Phil the question, who’s lying on who? Because with the devastating ball carriers we have, we don’t have much luck in terms of coming out on top in terms of the average play the ball speed.

“Opinion’s opinion, but sometimes we need to look at the facts.”

Should the six-again rule be tweaked?

The six-again rule continues to divide opinion, with growing calls to follow the NRL’s lead in awarding a penalty to teams who are held down in the tackle inside their own 40 metres.

There is no doubt it has become a tactic for teams to concede a six-again on the first tackle, particularly after a kick chase, where they clearly take the viewpoint that they would rather be tasked with seven tackles with a set defensive line, than play on with a broken line.

As with many laws of the game, coaches and players will always try and push the boundaries.

It is therefore up to those who devise the laws of the game and to stay a play ahead. Perhaps the powers that be have missed their opportunity to close up this lying on loophole ahead of the 2023 campaign.

It would not be surprising to see it changed at some point in the future.

Wellens’ fascinating insight in to how in attack, Saints have the slowest play the ball speed is great news for those of us who believe the game shouldn’t all be about quick play the balls and scooting from dummy half.

The six-again rule was brought in to try and speed the game up, as well as solve an issue where games are swung by deep kicks in touch from penalties given for interference or lying on at the play the ball.

Have the NRL now found the sweet spot in between? It remains to be seen if Super League and the RFL follow.

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