Last week the National Rugby League took action as ferocious as the problem it was aiming to deal with.
In response to an apparent increase in head high tackles the NRL overnight changed its rules only days before its 10th round of matches so that players can be sent to the “sin-bin” for 10 minutes for high tackles and for the rest of the game for a serious or a second offence.
The same goes for repeated infringements in the ruck.
Past players, especially those who have morphed into commentators, were outraged as 14 players were binned and three sent off during last weekend’s “Magic Round”. Cub reporters joined in, desperate to get an interview with a current coach or former great who was prepared to claim it was ruining the game.
“It’s not our game”, “It’s not the game we played”, “The fans will be turned off in droves” were typical of the perhaps-expected immediate refrains.
There were plenty available to oblige, but not one of the longest-serving, most experienced and respected in the game.
Super-coach Wayne Bennett stunned those asking with his blunt, forceful reaction – “I’ve been on this for a long time about the head stuff. I’m totally supportive of that.”
Not that he was totally happy with the way the game is now otherwise being refereed – questioning whether the game is now being officiated by those on the field or those in rugby league’s “Bunker” who, with the advantage of hindsight and replayed footage, are able to over-rule more and more.
The Bunker has been in operation much longer than the AFL’s “Arc”, gradually encroaching more and more into decision-making. It even means the game can be stopped quite some time after an incident because those in the Bunker have picked up something they believe the on-field referee missed.
Right now the Arc is only used during the game for score reviews. But beyond that it has now already become a tool for reviewing umpire performance – much undertaken in real time. Bizarrely this means that former umpires with less high level experience are evaluating the decision-making of those currently umpiring AFL games.
Inevitably there will be pressure – even though the NRL experience has been far from universally positive – to use the Arc to intervene in more areas of the game. For example Eddie McGuire has observed that the Arc can be used to harmonise and regulate a more consistent application of the rules as gambling inevitably takes a greater interest in the game.
In both regards the AFL can probably learn much from the NRL’s willingness under the leadership of its fearless chairman, Peter V’landys to delve into the unknown.
After doing much to re-invigorate horse racing in New South Wales, V’landys seems determined to make rugby league a safer and better place with no concern about a radical decision regarding a change in the game in the here and now. It’s a sharp contrast to the wait-and-see approach of those in command at AFL House.
It is not immediately clear what has motivated the NRL to so dramatically change its on-field disciplinary rules – especially to increase the potential for sin-binning and send-offs. The AFL by contrast has neither option at the highest levels – even for existing obvious serious violations of the rules.
Perhaps the NRL has received persuasive reports on head knocks, concussion and CTE or even the news of the instigation of legal action. Whatever it is, to act so emphatically mid-season smacks of something compelling.
It has a task ahead of it to convince those who believe it might change the game into something else that the strategy is correct.
What every supporter of the game – rugby league or AFL – must comprehend is that the administrators of both codes are now well aware of the short- and long-terms risks to players from contact to the head.
Failure to take steps now may well bankrupt even the most financial of competitions – and in the not-too-distant future.
And yes that may mean a game looks different from days gone by, but in reality it already does – for a plethora of reasons.
But what spectator-friendly sports probably don’t need is product constantly interrupted by on- or off-field reviews. Technology needs to be adapted to support on-field officials – not replace them.
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This story League is tackling the problem of concussion head on
first appeared on Cootamundra Herald.
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League is tackling the problem of concussion head on
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