Rule changes a recipe for confusion and contradiction


Furthermore, the rule changes will favour certain clubs. No wonder Canberra’s Ricky Stuart was so vocal in backing the changes last week, breaking ranks with his colleagues who support the two-referee model to embrace the single-referee system.

Raiders co-captain Josh Hodgson is the best player in the NRL at stripping the ball and has surpassed Storm skipper Cameron Smith at “getting in the ref’s ear” to influence decisions.

If the ball pops out in a tackle as a result of solid contact with a defender’s shoulder but the referee believes it is a strip, under the new rules he will call “six again” and allow the attacking player to retrieve the ball and play it, rather than halt play with a penalty.

Given this extra but undeserved possession, the player will heel it as quickly as possible and play moves on. The defending skipper can’t appeal because a captain’s challenge can be made only at a break in play.

If, however, there is a genuine strip but the referee believes the ball-carrier lost it or was seeking to “milk” a penalty, he must now order a scrum with the head and feed to the defending team.

The captain’s challenge, introduced in February at the direction of ARLC chairman Peter V’landys, is at odds with some “six again” situations.Credit:AAP

Because a scrum constitutes a stoppage, the captain of the attacking team can challenge the decision. The video referee will take time deciding if it was a strip or the ball-carrier has milked a penalty.

If the captain’s challenge is upheld, he retains it, leading to another stoppage when it is used.

Yet the reason for expanded use of repeat sets is to avoid penalties, which stop the clock and frustrate fans!

Furthermore, there may be more captain’s challenges in the finals. The Herald recently reported that, during a brainstorming session at the beginning of the season, South Sydney hooker Damien Cook called for a doubling of the captain’s challenges and was supported by Cronulla’s Wade Graham and Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans.

So a well-meaning innovation to empower players during the crucial finals month may undermine another well-meaning innovation to please fans via fewer penalties and stoppages.

In fact, captains and fans will both be frustrated by increased action around the ball in the tackle. Under the two-referee system, with the ruck referee only three metres away, he/she often mistook a strip for a lost ball and vice versa.

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With a single referee standing 15 metres from the ruck, adjudicating the defensive line, there will be even more incorrect rulings, angering players and fans alike. The only advantage of playing in an empty stadium is the referee can warn a player from that distance and be heard.

After a 10-week lay-off, players cannot be expected to instantly decide between indiscretions that result in a repeat set and those that lead to a penalty.

There is one certainty: we will see less counter-attack from a team’s own half. When a team kicks downfield, coaches will order the defender to flop over the ball-carrier to a stop a quick play-the-ball. Under the list of infringements sent to clubs, this is an offence that warrants a repeat set.

So the attack receives one extra tackle and the defence gets to set its line! Even if the referee deems it was a penalty offence (hand on the face, rough play), the attack receives extra territory only from the penalty kick for touch.

You’d need to recall former Wests Tiger Pat Richards, who kicked a 55-metre penalty in 2015, to be a chance of clearing the crossbar from that distance.

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