Changing the law
Phil Clarke wonders if it is time for rugby league administrators to modify and adapt the rules again.
Last Updated: 04/09/08 11:55am
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.
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.
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.