Three ‘trial rules’ are set to be employed when the NRL All Stars game takes place on the weekend, with two of the rules continuing a trend which sees the game shift significantly away from big, lumbering forwards to players with a better balance between physical presence and athletic ability.
Without doubt the Rugby League player has evolved significantly over the last 20 years. The days of the overweight prop that grinds out a hit-up every second possession then hacks up a lung in the background for the next 2 minutes are well and truly behind us.
There are a number of reasons for that. Firstly, things have simply developed and evolved when it comes to training and nutrition. With a better understanding of what it takes to create a conditioned athlete the expectations that the clubs have put on their players in terms of the work they need to put in during the off-season, at trainings, and in the gym, has grown.
Secondly, because of the cash involved in the sport clubs also want their ‘money’s worth’ from their players. While the quintessential prop from days gone by may have struck fear into the opposition with their no-holds-barred approach to the game, that’s no longer enough. Clubs want well-rounded players, who can carry the ball every set if need be, and who are reliable and consistent on defence.
And lastly, the money that is involved in the sport as a form of entertainment continues to grow, which in turn drives the development of the game. The sports’ governing bodies, whether in the NRL or the Super League, are forced to grow the game in whichever direction will attract the audience numbers in order to ensure they generate the necessary sponsorship and advertising dollars they need to keep the game itself running, and those audiences demand a fast-paced, exciting game.
Of the three new rules this weekend’s match will employ, two of them stand out to me as signaling where the game is headed in the future.
Quick restarts from penalties, with captains forced to wait until the next genuine stoppage in play before they can question the referee, will increase the demands on players’ stamina, while new penalties at the ruck will put further pressure on tacklers to get off the tackled player as quickly as possible, allowing the opposition to play with more speed, and creating a side-effect which diminishes the ‘down-time’ every other player has to rest and recover between plays.
The rules which the All Star game will trial all involve keeping the game moving and making it faster, and thus more action packed for the viewers. This in turn requires players to be fitter and in far better condition than players of days gone by, hence the death of the traditional ‘fatty’ up front.