Mailbox: Be careful what you wish for

8th March 2020, DW Stadium, Wigan, England; Betfred Super League, Wigan Warriors v Hull KR : Shaun Kenny-Dowall (3) of Hull KR gives a team talk during a break in play

Mailbox gives you the chance to get your voice heard and start the debate with the rugby league audience. Want to be featured? Email the editor: james@loverugbyleague.com

Dear James,

It’s some time since I wrote to you as Rugby league along with life was put on ice, but the thaw seems to be around the corner and RL is getting ready to emerge from its hibernation.

The RFL and me seem to have conflicting ideas on how to run the sport, unfortunately they have the power and I do not, but as a supporter for over 50 years I have seen many rule changes and “interpretations” of the rules.

Whatever they do in the interest of the game just as in legal law there are unintentional consequences.

Let’s take you back in time a little, well a lot really. When the Northern union split over payment of lost time for a while, they played the same rules, gradually over time the RFU and the RFL (as it became) diverged on the laws of the game. One of the defining decisions was after a tackle has been made rather than a ruck or maul the game was restarted by a play the ball. At this time there were unlimited tackles so the ball was played and the forwards took it up a couple of yards, repeating until an error was made.

The RFL decided that this was not a great spectacle, and the game was boring and repetitive so the limited tackle rule was employed 4 tackles to a set, with restart via the scrum, the defending side got head and feed.

In the heavy fields of winter rugby the RFL decided that 4 tackles were not enough so they increased it to 6, they also decided that scrums were only to be a minor part of the game unlike rugby union. Let us face it the application of scrums became a farce, players not binding, none contested scrums, feet up, feeding etc. They played around with head and feed disadvantage but still they were abysmal.

So today scrums don’t allow the defending team any possible means of “pinching “ the ball back so to that extent they are now totally redundant, and the specialist positions of props and hookers, quick second rowers and loose forward don’t apply. They do have one redeeming feature and that is they bind 12 big heavy blokes in a huddle to allow some open play from the backs. The latest decision for season 2020 not to have scrums (on health grounds Covid 19) is the test period to see if the game can manage without scrums…. Watch this space….

This takes me on to my second rule change 6 again.

I have been watching Australian RL since it resumed, they are making the best of a bad job, but in my opinion it’s a disaster, and my logic is as follows:

The Aussie players play or attempt to play the ball with their foot after a tackle (unlike the British where a step to the side and roll the ball back seems to be the norm). Looking at the Aussie matches 90% of the game is the forwards doing a one-man charge from a very fast play the ball. The purpose is to make sure the defending teams markers do not have time to get back in position, couple this with a sneaky half step to the side results in “6 again” so a 6 tackle set becomes a 10 or 12 tackle set, always followed by a grubber or bomb kick near the line. Eat sleep repeat.

We are virtually going back to the unlimited tackle rule. I am sure the tactics employed by the Aussie RL will apply over here, play fast and loose to get a 6 again.

The Aussies are masters of defence this results in all forward play, the backs hardly ever get a chance. 2nd phase ball is a rarity except in the last 10 minutes of the game when the losing side must try something different.

Another consequence of this play the ball farce is that a good big un beats a good small un, the size of the players is phenomenal. 20 stone men built of lean muscle crashing into each other for 80 minutes is not good for players welfare , even less if you are a back tackling a forward.

So RFL in the interest of speeding up the game to make it more exciting “Be careful what you wish for”.

So what is my prediction under these rules and interpretations?

1. The players picked will be larger like American football.

2. The players will play very limited minutes.

3. Substitutions will increase due to medical reasons, HIA, Blood bin, Foul Contact, 3rd man in injuries.

4. Game will be in 4 quarters to allow the hulks time to catch their breath. (under the guise of water breaks).

5. Scrums will be abolished, replaced by handovers.

6. The rules changed to favour even more the attacking side to provide more excitement in a very dull forward clash

7. Wingers and centres will be bigger and taller to cash in on the high bomb

I also think that the Super League will go back to no relegation and promotion ultimately forcing the Championship, League 1 and the amateur teams to form their own association in a semi professional code.

There is even the possibility that Super League will split from the RFL to allow them the flexibility to define their own broadcast rights.

From my own personal place I hope I am entirely wrong.

Graham Collins

Editor’s comment: While I’m not sure we’ll see those extremes, the move towards 17 “machines” has concerned me over the past decade or so; partly because it removes variation from the play and also doesn’t accommodate players of different statures – be it big or small, fat or thin – in a way that rugby union still does. I have enjoyed the six again rule, mainly because it removes the kick to touch element on some penalties which presents a stop start nature. That said, it is important that the game doesn’t just become about a quick play the ball, which again is something that has had an increasing influence over the past decade.

Mailbox gives you the chance to get your voice heard and start the debate with the rugby league audience. Want to be featured? Email the editor: james@loverugbyleague.com

1 Comment

  1. I had a thought, if they do away with scrums, why play prop forwards or half backs? Puck a team of centres, wings, second rows, and loose forwards. The faster players, the ball handlers, less reliant on the big hit, more on speed, uniformity across the pitch.

    I do think they have to scrap relegation this season, and I think they need to be more upfront and agree that once a fortnight they’ll get together with clubs, referees, supporters groups, and broadcasters and tweak the interim rules until the can find a set which best suits all parties. It’s not easy, they’re not going to pick the right result out of the hat first time, I’d suggest it’s an unrealistic expectation for them to do so. There is too much to think about, and as suggested by the article unintended consequences may affect the game negatively, so the RFL has to be up front and be willing to admit mistakes, and make changes.

    Instead of a scrum, how about seven players, scrum plus the back feeding it, have to drop and do a couple of push ups to take them out of the game?

    One thing from watching a little of the NRL while it was free to watch, it’s going to be quick, it’s going to be murderously quick.

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