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Phil Clarke worried too many basic laws are being ignored so game can get quicker

Phil Clarke - Phil Clarke Posted 20th August 2014 view comments

After watching every game of Round 24 over the weekend, I was hit by a ‘light bulb’ moment. Do the rules really mean anything in rugby league?

I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to wake up and realise that the sport is losing credibility in its willingness to keep the game flowing.

I’m all for a quick game, who isn’t, but when do the rules matter?

Scrums: are one of the rules that often get overlooked, says Phil

Scrums: are one of the rules that often get overlooked, says Phil

Throughout the course of Round 24 I noticed the following:

1: A player offloading the ball when the referee had called ‘held’ and the player hadn’t heard him. What happened? He’s told to go back and play-the-ball, try again if you like.

2: A players makes a tap-20 restart whilst some of his teammates are still running back to get behind the 20m line. They’re off-side. OK, don’t worry, try again.

3: A scrum was formed, well not quite, a group of six players stood close to one another while the ball was rolled along the floor, play on. Let’s keep the game going.

4: Of the 1,435 play-the-balls that we had in Round 24, less than half of the players contacted the ball with their foot. There was not one penalty for this!

Which rules matter and which ones don’t?

I could add to this list, but I think that you get the point that I’m making.

On the other hand, a team can trap the ball in the second row of the scrum (but not 5cm further back in front of the loose forward), wait for the opposition defenders to stray offside and receive a penalty.

I appreciate how hard it must be to try to referee a game of rugby league and am not critical of them in any way in what I’m saying here. I’m part of the problem and need to be part of the solution. We all are.

What do we all want the game to look like in five years’ time? The current interpretation of the rules worry me and it can at times look like an Under 7’s match when kids are given a second attempt if they don’t get it right first time.

Change takes time, I’m aware of that and habits take even longer to alter but I’m concerned that we are slowly slipping too far from the rule book in an attempt to maintain the speed of the sport. The men who try to officiate the game at all levels need some help in knowing where we’re going with our interpretation of the Laws of the Game.

I’m not suggesting it’s all doom and gloom. There were some amazing tries scored last weekend, several bone-crunching tackles and the drama and excitement of a last-minute score by Wigan at Hull KR. We all know that we have the foundations of a great game.

However if you take a 10-year view over the leniency of the laws then you’d see what I’m saying:


There is no such thing as a perfect sport, every game has its flaws and the way that each game is played evolves over time. As a result, so do the rules of the game and the ways in which the officials cover it.

What I’d like you to tell me is what you think is important. If a player is off-side by 1m on the other side of the field, 60m from the action, does the referee need to penalise him or should the game go on? Do you think that playing the ball with your foot is irrelevant? Do players need to bind together at a scrum, or just stand close to each other?

If we are to apply more of the rules, as I would like, then we all need to be prepared for a temporary increase in the number of penalties. It might take a year or two, but the alternative of losing credibility amongst the British sporting public is a bigger long term problem in my opinion.

We have, for several years now, decided the play to some rules and ignore others. Which ones matter to you?

Good luck to all the players at Leeds and Castleford this Saturday. I hope that the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you walk out at Wembley. Fingers crossed it’s a great game and as close and exciting as the match last February between the two teams.

Scroll down to tell Phil what YOU think needs to happen as the game goes forward, or get in touch through Twitter on @SkySportsRL.

Comments (4)

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David Kenyon says...

I think that scrums are an embarassment to the game we need to abolish them and just give a hand over or we need to make them competetive. Also the offside rule when a player is within 10 metres but not interfering.

Posted 18:38 20th August 2014

Tony Cope says...

Your spot on Phil with all the above others to add to the list. Defending team never have both feet behind the goal line at the PtheB. Players stand beside the ref and in front of him but don't get penalised for off side

Posted 18:34 20th August 2014

Jennie Finch says...

Consistency is what I want. In Salford v Leeds game players who had made a break were deliberately held down do defenders could back yet no penalty. The play the ball has virtually gone. Possibly because when it was enforced your colleague Mr Stephenson got mightily upset. My view is if penalties are given , players & coaches will soon enough stop the breaches as no advantage.

Posted 17:47 20th August 2014

Mike Healing says...

Totally agree with the points made by Phil, and there are others, such as moving 'off the mark' at the ptb. When was this offence written out of the laws? I think the most frustrating is the almost total disregard for the correct ptb. Ignoring the rules for the sake of the games image is a ridiculous step. Apply the rules, give penalties (all of them) and players and coaches will soon learn! After a brief period of 'stop start' games the game will soon flow and its image will automatically improve dramatically without the tinkering. At least players and fans will know where we all stand and it may even take the varied 'interpretations' away from the officials - and that can only be for the good of the game! The game is not, or shouldn't be, about its image as perceived by the gentlemen at Red Hall or some of those with microphones. It is about playing to the rules and entertaing the fans. Surely it is these very rules, and their application, that set us apart from 'kick and clap'.

Posted 17:46 20th August 2014

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