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Changing the law

Phil Clarke Posted 3rd September 2008 view comments

The sport of rugby league has continued to modify and adapt its rules over the last 100 years. As the first professional rugby code, it quickly recognised the need to provide top quality entertainment to keep the paying public happy.

Some might say that we change the rules too often, and it is hard to disagree when you compare it to football. Rugby union has recently experimented with several law changes which have been met by stiff resistance from many quarters. Nevertheless, there is a growing momentum from the game's administrators and repeated voices that a modification is now necessary.

Melbourne Storm: monotonous charges

Melbourne Storm: monotonous charges

It is well over ten years since the last significant change when the defending team were forced to retire 10 metres from the play-the-ball instead of just five. In the early 1990s this had a dramatic effect on the speed of the game. Prior to that you had the introduction of the six tackle rule in 1972, which had been preceded at one time by an unlimited number of tackles for the team in possession. This more or less ensured that both teams got almost 50 per cent of possession. Some changes, like the increase from two substitutes to four in 1996 were partly as a result of increases in health and safety of the players, but the vast majority have been designed to make the game better to watch.

The change to the rules had the desired effect but shifted the point of attack to a different strategy. Grubber kicks in-goal became the new Chinese torture of Rugby League.

Phil Clarke
Quotes of the week

Melbourne Storm, the best Australian team for the last few years very rarely pass the ball until they get within 20 metres of their opponents try line. A large part of their game is then taken up by monotonous charges to gain as many metres as possible with little or no chance of passing the ball, making a break or scoring a try. When they get near to their opponents' line, they are a wonderful team to watch but this only takes up a very small part of the 80 minutes in a match.

I have often heard spectators who are critical of the number of tries that we see scored from kicks, and I could argue for and against this point depending on my mood, but some of them are more entertaining to watch than when the player dives over from the play-the-ball when he is just 50cm from the try line.

Just over 20 years ago we made a change to the rules regarding a defensive player catching a high kick in his own in-goal area. It became a re-start to his team on the 20 metres line. This was to discourage the play of repeatedly kicking high and trapping the opposition fullback in-goal. The change to the rules had the desired effect but shifted the point of attack to a different strategy. Grubber kicks in-goal became the new Chinese torture of rugby league.

The time is right for an international review of the laws in terms of their application to the modern game. People watch to see the right balance between attack and defence. They also want to see people take risks. Unfortunately the nature of the current game penalises this too heavily and rewards the low risk game with a patient approach.

Comments (8)

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Neil Delaney says...

Simon can't really believe that the game in the UK is in good shape purely because the home clubs have won the WCC? The moment the Australian clubs start taking that game seriously, is when the UK teams start losing. A better yardstick to measure the strength of the respective countries is probably to look at our recent record in test matches against Australia. Let's be right, it's not great, is it? They have better players, are fitter, have more athletic ability and are coached better.the old days when they were fit, but we had better ball playing forwards are loooooong gone. We seem to pick the same old faces year after year, while they have a conveyor belt of talent. Players like Greg Inglis, Israel Folau, Jonathan Thurston are still only very young, while on top of that they have just picked about 6 rookies in their test squad. We've gone for Martin Gleson, Keith Senior........etc etc. I'd love to see an England win in the World Cup, but it's as unlikely as someone other than Leeds, Saints, Wigan or Bradford winning the Grand Final.

Posted 04:58 13th October 2008

Colin Wilkinson says...

i enjoy this game and there might be sum things that could be made better, but the one that should be used more often is the sin bin. time after time an offence is made and passed on to the judiciary with no benefit to the offending team. this is a cop out on the referees.

Posted 19:21 8th September 2008

Colin Wilkinson says...

i think the game is is good to watch at the moment, the only thing i would change is the 20 restart when the ball is caught in the in goal, that punishes a good kick. the defending team should be made to run it out.and when the scrum is formed quick the ref should not stop time he should keep the same players that packed down and make the defending team pack down quicker. this would stop all the wingers from packing to stop the clock then swap the pack around once time is off.

Posted 19:12 8th September 2008

Stewart Ibbotson says...

I take it mel smith is a comedian. The game in aussie can't/or won't host the World Club Championship( my words) because nobody will turn up and the reason is they are only interested in there domestic comp and the state of origen. Full stop. We on the other hand will try our best to spread the word that Rugby League is the best most exciting game and will do our utmost to give other countries a chance to play our great game in a competitive atmosphere. Game on for Celtic and hopefully in the future Toulouse.

Posted 17:45 8th September 2008

Trevor Fuller says...

Hi Phil, I think that contested scrums should be reintroduced & that that the nos. of substitutes should be urgently increased upto 7 like in Union. The nos of interchanges should maybe be increased also to 16 per team, per game. Looking at SL this season & the amount of injuries suffered & the loss of medium-long-term damage this did to many teams over this season, justifies these steps in my opinion! Something needs to be done, to sometimes slow the game down a little to preserve its most vital assets, namely the Players!

Posted 16:48 8th September 2008

Andrew Grainger says...

Although I think that Rugby league is a pretty good product and that most rule changes over the past few years have been largely positive in effect, I would agree Phil that it is time for some things to be looked at. Indeed, the rules do favour caution too much and that, combined with easy metres to be made with the 10m rule, scrummage rules being ignored so that there is less variation in possesion pattern and no reward for good attacking touchfinders if not 40-20s can sometimes make for predicatble tactics and patterns of play. In addition, I am not a fan of the way dummy runners are used at times. Whilst there is not always a definite physical obstruction, dummy runners put themselves in what is basically an offside postion, blocking the view of defenders who are left with no chance of seeing and therfore reading which way the ball will go. It makes it too easy to break the line at times. I would favour tightening up the rules on this to make dummy running an offence if the runner comes between a defender and the direction that the passing movement is going, irrespective of whether the defender could have got to the tackle. Teams play on the brink of obstruction far too much for my liking.

Posted 16:26 8th September 2008

Ash Samuels says...

I feel that we should either have video referees at every game or none at all. You could have a try disallowed by the video ref one week and the exact same sort of try given in a game with no video help. Thus it either aids or hinders teams. A decision could be down to winning or losing a game or more importantly, finishing first or second. We must have a level playing field for all. With the amount of money in super league via sky, i think it will be a drop in the water to install a screen at every ground and employ more cameramen etc. It would even mean we would need an influx of referees as they are badly needed. Another reason for this is simple, the ref has to make an on the spot decision with no video help, where he can have the luxury of checking with the replay. A minute or so will not matter to the fans as the video replay has become part of the game. We are the one of the only sports that actually shows everyone the replays that the video ref sees. Keep it up Sky. PS, Another rule change i would employ is one at Sky Sports its self. You have the same pundits on and dont seem to want to include all the managers from the superleague. Play fair now and invite them all.

Posted 20:42 5th September 2008

Dean Buckler says...

After reading your comments regarding rule changes I feel that the English game is being used as an example on how to make the game more entertaining down here in Oz. After this current season has been one of the dourest I and many of the games pundits have seen. Andrew Johns recently commented on how exciting and attacking the challenge cup final was and that the English game doesn't over emphasise the defenceive side of the game but looks to encourage a more attacking style of football. This is all well and good and does create better viewing , SOMETIMES!! , but I feel the Enlish game will be in for a rude awakening come the World Cup. With an Australian team littered with melbourne Storm players don't think a good quick play the ball and the stealing of cheap yards up the middle will be enough , we need a rock solid defence and not just for 60minutes. Breaking the line and making 15-20 m on each tackle has been easy meat for teams such as Saint's and Leeds against mediocre defence of teams such as Wakefield and Castleford but when it comes to playing the current Ozzi team those metres will not be there and niether will the inconsistent and soft defence. the games I have seen this season in super league have been differing , I love great attack but also a strong defence , we need to look at how quick the referees expect the players to find there feet and how fast is it humanly possible for the defenders to get off an attacker. Id like to see the stats for saints of games won through penalties given against opposition for not clearing the ruck quick enough , especially when Roby and Cunningham are continously asking for penalties for slow play. The RFL need to look at rewarding good defence and maybe we will once again see players such as Andy platt and Kevin Ward being the stars of the show.

Posted 03:11 5th September 2008

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