Rugby League

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NRL risks becoming its own code

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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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