NRL great PAUL GALLEN will appear on Nine’s 100% FOOTY on Monday night, debating rugby league’s hottest topics alongside Phil Gould and James Bracey. Tune in from 9.40m AEST, following all the action of Round 18!
For the first time this season, the refereeing has made me cranky.
The refs are throwing out six-agains like they’re nothing. Or as Gus Gould says, handing them out like Smarties. We saw it in State of Origin and again on the weekend.
I was never a big fan of the six-again rule change but last year, I had to admit that it had produced some exciting football. But that was last year, when all the teams were still getting used to it.
This year, they’ve worked it out. They’ve had a full off-season to work on it and now, coaches and the players are blatantly exploiting the rule.
Particularly on the tryline, teams are now giving away six-agains deliberately on the first tackle. They reset their defensive line and go again, having only cost themselves one extra tackle with an off-side or a ruck infringement.
The tryline is the easiest part of the field to defend in the modern game. You don’t have to get back 10 metres, your fullback is in the defensive line and you don’t have two square markers. And coaches will always work out ways to bend the rules; the Roosters gave away three consecutive six-agains on a first tackle while defending their tryline against the Cowboys.
Our game is about winning. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t need referees. But this is win at all costs stuff, including trying to get around the rules in any way possible. That’s just the way it is.
The NRL aren’t going to change the six-again rules. We’ve seen more significant rule changes in the past 12-18 months than we’ve seen in more than a century of the game and they won’t go back.
So to stamp it out, the referee may need to use penalties and the sin-bin. A penalty is still a big deterrent, if it’s a tight game and you can take two points, while sin-binning a player for 10 minutes puts a team at a big disadvantage. Referees can tell when infringements are being done blatantly and deliberately, especially near the tryline. Maybe they give a warning or two, then a sin-bin.
One thing that annoys me about the six-agains if that too often, the referees have no feel for the game.
A couple of times in Origin, six-agains were called late in sets, deep in the opposition end, when a player was half a step off-side. This is after the defenders have belted the crap out of the other team, put in a massive effort to keep them in their half, and we’re giving six-agains for the slightest infringement.
That happened a few times in Origin and we see it happen in club footy, too. It’s been happening all year, to be honest, but Origin – with millions of people watching – really made it sink in for everyone.
Part of the problem is that we don’t really quantify how many six-agains are given. You might have 14 in a game, plus a few penalties to each side. That’s 20 refereeing decisions per game; if it was 20 penalties, there’d be an uproar but because it’s six-agains where the play goes on, the referees are kind of getting away with it.
There are just too many six-again calls. That State of Origin game was crazy and there were games on the weekend that were similar.
Canberra somehow got an eight-point try against the Sharks. And some of the six-agains in that game, you were left wondering, ‘What for?’
The other side of it, of course, is that when teams cop six-agains that aren’t deliberate, that don’t cost just one extra tackle, they so often end up on the wrong side of a blowout scoreline.
Momentum in rugby league is so hard to stop, even more so these days. Scoring one try brings confidence and energy.
So you score a try, you’re starting to roll through your sets and get it back to the 40-metre line no worries from the kick-off … then get a six-again at the end of the set and all of a sudden, you’re attacking the tryline again.
It’s that simple and it’s incredibly hard to stop. Teams can put on 18 points in a matter of minutes and it’s a huge game-changer.
NRL Highlights: Savage stars in the Raiders win over the Sharks – Round 18
AMAZING STORM PROVING MY DOUBTS WRONG
Talent, coaching and the new rules are all contributors to the type of competition that we have this year. I can’t remember a bigger gap between the top-two sides and the rest.
I wrote earlier this year that Melbourne would be a top-four side again but there were doubts about them winning the competition, with Cameron Smith missing.
I wasn’t sure that they’d be able to get it done in the big games, without his class and experience. But I may need to retract that statement.
Melbourne are just amazing in the way that they keep producing the goods and they look every chance to again win the comp.
‘The Cheese’ (Brandon Smith) and Harry Grant haven’t missed a beat in filling that hooker role. Grant’s out injured and the Storm still beat Newcastle 48-4 on the weekend.
Penrith still got the two points against the Warriors despite their halves, Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, both being sidelined. We saw how influential they are in State of Origin and they’ll be desperate to take the Panthers one step further than last season.
Outside of the top two, it’s hard to come up with a form guide at the moment.
South Sydney have started to come good to some extent but only just got over the last-placed Bulldogs on Sunday night. They didn’t look overly convincing.
With the talent they have in their side, plus Wayne Bennett as coach, they could definitely threaten but at this point in time, there’s a big gap to make up.
Manly, when they get the Trbojevic brothers back, may be the only team that could spring a big upset in the finals; and that’s only based on how good Tommy Turbo’s form has been.
The Eels look like finishing in the top-four again. Dylan Brown played well in the halves for Parramatta on the weekend and they have Mitchell Moses to come back. Can they challenge for the premiership? Possibly.
Moses was really on a hiding to nothing in his State of Origin debut. If NSW lost, he was always going to get blamed. Rightly or wrongly, that’s what happens with NSW halves.
I don’t think he played badly and he certainly didn’t cost them the game. In the big picture, I don’t think he really gained or lost anything from Origin. While he won’t come out with confidence flying high for the rest of the NRL season, it won’t dent his confidence either. He just fulfilled a childhood dream by playing for the Blues and well done to him.
Just below the Eels, the Roosters are hanging around in fifth spot but have been hammered by injuries and had to work hard to beat the Cowboys.
Cronulla last week put in a great performance against the Warriors, then weren’t great against Canberra. The main reason they were in that game on Saturday was ill-discipline from the Raiders.
NRL Highlights: The Storm smash the Knights – Round 18
Newcastle finally have Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce back on the field together and get done 48-4 by Melbourne. The Titans got smacked by the Eels.
Wests Tigers had a big win over Brisbane but that was the Broncos that we’ve seen far too often in the past two seasons. They got behind on the scoreboard and fell to pieces. Only Brisbane and the Bulldogs are completely out of the finals picture.
Teams like the Cowboys, Tigers, Titans, Knights and Raiders are all still in finals contention. Even the Warriors, currently in 14th spot, aren’t totally out of it.
It may be that eighth spot goes to a team with a losing record, with just 11 wins. The Dragons and Sharks are seventh and eighth at the moment, with 8-9 and 7-10 records respectively.
You have to be aiming for that 12-win mark to guarantee a finals spot but less than that may be enough; which is rare, and again shows how lopsided this season has become.
The Dragons and the Sharks would have given themselves a big lift had they won on the weekend, yet neither did. I still like Cronulla’s chances, given that they have plenty of winnable games in the remaining draw before hosting Melbourne in the final round.
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