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NRL risks becoming its own code


Tailor made: The NRL is looking less and less like rugby league in other countries.

Tailor made: The NRL is looking less and less like rugby league in other countries. Photo: Brendan Esposito

While most of the rule changes announced by the NRL for the coming season are intelligent and helpful, the sport is becoming increasingly different to the one played elsewhere in the world.

In fact, the NRL must be close to being, technically, the third code of rugby. After all, now that rugby union is professional, the only things separating it from league are rules.

Zero" tackle from 20 metre restarts, taps from 40/20s, timeouts in the final five minutes of matches; these things, along with golden-point time and dual referees, make the NRL very different to the games played on parks each weekend and in England, France and elsewhere.

To people involved in the game in these areas, the most recent changes smack of arrogance; of a belief that the NRL is rugby league and no one else matters.

Those of you of a certain age would remember when all rule changes had to go to the international board. Yet now that organisation, the Rugby League International Federation, can hold a tournament that makes $6 million and a few months later be completely ignored by sweeping changes in the rules of a domestic league.

Recruitment is supposedly a key aim of the NRL. Yet the sport that players are being recruited for is growing more distinct with every passing year from the one played on TV.

The NRL is either trying to get youngsters to play an increasingly different game or it is doing nothing more than promoting itself.

You're probably reading this and asking what its author thinks should happen. What should happen is that the NRL thinks of itself as the premier league – a high-profile example of a sport played widely – and not the NFL, the only competition of any importance in its sport.

Rule changes should go to the International Federation, as they used to in the '70s and '80s. Full stop.

Too many thrills

All the other news since the last column has been in England, where the new competition structure has been announced, a naming rights backer unveiled and the draw for the Magic Weekend made public.

In this paragraph I should probably explain what the new competition structure is. But it would take more than a paragraph.

Basically, the season will kick off with two divisions of 12 and, after 22 or 23 rounds, split into three of eight.

The idea is to retain as much interest as possible in as many games as possible. This column was critical of the idea when it was first announced.

But another way to look at it is that there is just a top-eight play-off in Super League – but everyone who misses out has to justify staying in the competition the following year.

Many people have welcomed a return to what is effectively promotion and relegation. It gives teams something to aim for, they say. The flipside is short-term planning at its worst, an environment of quick-fixes that rely on staying up – or getting up – at all costs.

Whether it will help England develop players for the international stages is questionable. So is whether there are enough resources in the British game to support 24 clubs all striving for the top.

But like the club chairmen who opposed the proposal – and they only just failed to block it – Discord is now willing to at least give the idea a chance. Next year is going to be a fascinating one in the northern hemisphere.

The sponsors are called First Utility. I've never heard of them but colleague Andy Wilson makes a good point – we can now enjoy the FU Super League.

Your comments

Last week Steve pointed out that the New York Raiders have never been in the USARL and are in fact an AMNRL team describing their own competition as "defunct". That error was fixed within 90 minutes of the column being posted.

Jack, Jackmat and Bob said this whole thing was a "who cares" issue. I'll make this clear, this is a column by a rugby league zealot for rugby league zealots. Casual fans will not find much of the content very interesting at all.

Tiger23 says he would like to see the United States in the Pacific Cup. I believe we are going to "invent" Hawaii as a country for that purpose.

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12 comments so far

  • Steve, if they work, the international federation will catch up.

    Do these changes apply for other rugby league games in Australia outside the NRL?

    Date and time
    January 26, 2014, 3:06PM
    • Steve,

      Yet another well thought out piece.

      Moving past the issue of who makes the rules, my problem is now that the last five minutes of a match will now be refereed differently to the first 75 minutes. When I have raised this, I've been told "But the NBA do it that way". In my opinion, that doesn't make it right.

      Date and time
      January 26, 2014, 5:52PM
      • Steve, the NRL is played in other countries? I think you've already answered this however if something isn't broken why fix it. The NFL is a game that takes on paper 60 minutes to play, however in reality it is played over 2-3 hours with all the breaks. Speeding up the game (NRL) will only result in a speed up of player burn out, they already apparently play harder than other codes, so why make it harder, unless the NRL bring in defence teams as well as special teams (?) and the offensive teams . As Jake Lombardi said " the best defence is a offence and the best offence is a defence" , so are we talking about NRL or NFL or RU?

        Date and time
        January 27, 2014, 12:03AM
        • Steve,the time wasting last season was unacceptable and is starting to grate everyone. Deliberately kicking the ball dead is a chance for a team that is ahead to close the game down.I believe the new rules will give a team that decides to play enterprising football a chance to win if they are behind on the scoreboard. We are in the entertainment business.We need to reduce the interchange rule to six replacements. This will open up the game as players tire and result in less injuries as the intensity of the tackles will reduce as the game evolves. It would allow our skilful halves a chance to attack more.Furthermore we would see more offloads by the forwards which is a lot better than watching another robotic hit up..

          Curl Curl
          Date and time
          January 27, 2014, 10:58AM
          • Whether you're right or wrong, the game doesn't need it.

            Never before has the game been so hard for a team to kill off. As a Roosters fan, I can recall in 2012 three games in which we either conceded or scored 2 tries in the final 4 minutes to win/lose. Two games against Souths, one against St George. Last year the Raiders came from 24-0 down to beat us in Canberra from memory.

            In the history of the code, never has it been more frequent that teams come from behind late in matches by playing enterprising football. We don't need to be changing rules to try and do it when it has already been done.

            Date and time
            January 27, 2014, 1:21PM
          • ...but what about when the ball only trickles dead as opposed to being 'deliberately' kicked dead?

            The same rule then applies to two different senarios.

            The NRL need to look at the dummy half passing the ball forward, which happens wayyy too often, and even forward passes in general play. I believe Easts profited twice from that in their last two games of 2013.

            Canberra Sea Eagle
            Date and time
            January 29, 2014, 1:01PM
        • Steve, You may not have noticed, but many sports have different rules for different levels. In US basketball for example, the NBA, NCAA, and High School ball all have different rules to each other and to the International Rules best known in Oz. The NRL needs rules most appropriate to them, and if that differs from suburban League, and junior League, and touch football, because their rules are appropriate for their circumstances, then the sport benefits. NRL should eliminate scrums, as they have become tunnel ball, and few appear to call for a return to old fashion scrums. Nothing more boring in Union that watching a scrum collapse three times before the ball is fed.

          Date and time
          January 27, 2014, 3:29PM
          • Rugby League isnt an international sport, its played in 2 states in one country

            Date and time
            January 28, 2014, 10:44PM
        • Steve is absoulutly correct. We are not the aFL. Rugby League is an international sport. Rugby League worldwide should be played under the same rules.

          red top
          Date and time
          January 27, 2014, 11:07PM
          • Steve, (it seems all comments start this way), unfortunately the RLIF is yet to develop it's own independently resourced and permanent board of directors. I only say this for the fellow readers benefit, as both you and I know the RLIF leadership panel consists of a couple of SL & NRL directors conversing around a lazy susan within an airport lounge bistro in Singapore. However, I have heard that a permanent goal is something realistically being aimed for post- 2017. Are you able to confirm this?

            Date and time
            January 28, 2014, 9:22AM

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            Round 22
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            MAN 28vs SOU 8 Stats
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            CRO 30vs NQL 18 Stats
            PAR 10vs PEN 4 Stats
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            MEL 36vs GCT 14 Report Stats
            NEW 22vs SYD 38 Report Stats
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            Round 23
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            NQL 18vs SOU 31 Stats
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            BRI 32vs STG 6 Report Stats
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            WST 18vs NEW 24 Stats
            PEN 24vs NZW 10 Stats
            SYD 28vs PAR 18 Stats
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            CBR 24vs MAN 26 Stats
            CBY 36vs GCT 14 Report Stats
            Mon, 17 AugTimes shown AEST
            CRO 2vs MEL 30 Stats
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            Round 24
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            STG 19vs PEN 12 Report Stats
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            SOU 18vs CBY 32 Report Stats
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            CRO 40vs WST 18 Report Stats
            NZW 16vs NQL 50 Report Stats
            SYD 12vs BRI 10 Report Stats
            Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
            GCT 28vs CBR 12 Stats
            MAN 16vs PAR 20 Report Stats
            Mon, 24 AugTimes shown AEST
            MEL 6vs NEW 20 Report Stats
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            Round 25
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            SOU 12vs BRI 47 Report Stats
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            MAN 10vs SYD 46 Report Stats
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            PAR 28vs CRO 35 Stats
            NEW 18vs CBY 20 Stats
            MEL 14vs NQL 6 Report Stats
            Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
            WST 50vs NZW 16 Report Stats
            GCT 28vs STG 26 Stats
            Mon, 31 AugTimes shown AEST
            CBR 34vs PEN 18 Stats
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            BRI 8vs MEL 15 Report Stats
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            SYD 30vs SOU 0 Report Stats
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            PEN 30vs NEW 12 Stats
            STG 32vs WST 30 Stats
            NQL 42vs GCT 12 Stats
            Sun, 06 SepTimes shown AEST
            PAR 24vs CBR 28 Stats
            CRO 12vs MAN 14 Stats
            CBY 26vs NZW 22 Stats
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            BRI 16vs NQL 12 Report Stats
            Sun, 13 SepTimes shown AEST
            CRO 28vs SOU 12 Report Stats
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            SYD 38vs CBY 12 Report Stats
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            NQL 39vs CRO 0 Report Stats
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            BRI 31vs SYD 12 Stats
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            MEL 12vs NQL 32 Stats
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            BRI 16vs NQL 17 Report Stats
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