Its time to make extra time fairer


I have never been fond of taking leaves out of American Football rule books in the past.

The Australians did it when they introduced two referees to the NRL, and experimented with rules in the All-Star game. But recently there was one rule in the NFL that caught my eye, and it related to something within our sport that remains contentious. Extra time!

For those who are ill-informed of the sport which was modified from rugby to suit television audiences by our trans-Atlantic cousins, allow me to explain. 

In the NFL regular season they, like the NRL, attempt to settle a tied game with additional overtime. The first team to score a point wins, regardless of if the score is a field goal, touchdown or something called a safety (don’t ask!) However in both the NFL and NRL if the scores are tied after additional time, the tie will stand. Seems pointless to me, but it’s because television companies don’t want to overrun on their schedules.

Obviously in play off or knockout rugby league where there has to be a clear winner, as many periods of extra time are played out as required until one team scores.

 Things are a little different in play-off NFL American Football. In 2010 the league changed their play off overtime rules. The first tied play of game since the new rules were implemented happened on Sunday between Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers. To summarise, the rules are:

– The team with first possession of the ball can automatically win the game by scoring a touchdown only. Therefore if a field goal is kicked, or they concede a safety (again, don’t ask!) then play is restarted as normal. Because in the NFL the scoring team kicks off to restart the game, this gives the conceding team a chance to equal or better the other team’s score.

– If neither team score a touchdown on their initial possession period, the period will continue to until after 15 minutes. After each team has possession of the ball at least once and the scores are still tied, the game will be decided by the team winning at the end of any period.

Got it? Hope so, because no one on the other side of the Atlantic understands them.

Unless a touchdown as been scored by either team when they first hold the ball, play continues as normal until the end of each period. If there is a winner at the end of the period or either team scores a touchdown with their first phase of possession, its game over. If the scores are still tied, more periods will be added on until there is a clear winner of the end of each 15 minute spell. 

Now here’s where rugby league should take inspiration from NFL. In rugby league two five minute half are played out under the golden point method. First team to score wins, even if it’s a drop goal. The way the game is played today, it means the toss of a coin is crucial as to who receives possession first.

Most of the time, the team who receives the ball first gets to within 40 metres of their opponent’s goal posts and kicks a drop goal. Game over, and the defending team has not had the ball in hand once.

My method would be slightly different to keep the sport’s fluidity, and takes into consideration the NFL’s first team to score a touchdown ruling:

– Two periods of five minute halves will begin the extra time period. If the scores are still tied at the end of ten minutes, play will continue until there is a clear winner at the end of further five minute periods.

– The first team to score a try wins the game automatically. There is no need to attempt a conversion.

– Drop goals and penalty goals will count to the overall score, but play will be restarted with a kick off as normal if these are scored. 

– If no tries have been scored at the end of ten minutes extra time but there is a clear winner through penalty goals or drop goals, that team wins the match.

Plenty of people have complained about the golden point method requiring little skill to win. Five drives and a kick with help from lady luck is hardly a fair way to settle a game of rugby, where both teams have bled sweat and tears for the win. Hopefully this method of extra time will not only prove to be as entertaining and nerve wrecking, but also add skill to an otherwise forceful affair. 

Granted, like in the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers NFL match on Sunday which used the new NFL rules for the first time, Pittsburgh didn’t touch the ball because Denver scored a touchdown off the very first play of overtime. But they didn’t slowly and boringly make their way to within kicking distance.

Its means that to win extra time in rugby league a team has to either play out the period, or show an ounce of brilliance to score a try. It will also give both teams a fairer chance to hold possession of the ball, and increases chances of scoring points. 

In my opinion something needs to be done to change the way we decide tied knockout matches. As mentioned the golden point method is exciting, but too much of an advantage is given to one side. NFL realised this and changed the rules accordingly for play off games. Its time rugby league took another leaf from NFL’s book.


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