Opinion: The rule change that improved our game
This is an excerpt from a story published in this week’s issue of League Express newspaper, which is out in all good newsagents right now. If you can’t get your hands on a hard copy, click here to download a digital version to your computer or smartphone.
In recent years the good folk at the NRL have been intent on introducing a raft of new rules aimed at making our great game even more spectacular.
Some, I should point out, have failed abysmally. But there is one that has produced some of the most amazing tries in the sport’s history. It was the decision to scrap the rule that a try would be disallowed if the player touched the corner post. One has to look at the historical context of the former law.
In yesteryear the corner posts were of sturdy construction – heavy wooden efforts hammered deep into the turf.
The rule was there to stop players using the corner post as a buffer to prevent their bodies going into touch before they managed to get the ball down behind the tryline.
Of the many controversial decisions in the history of Rugby League, the most generally discordant must be ‘Chimpy’ Busch’s disallowed try. And it involved the corner post rule.
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The incident occurred in the Third (and deciding) Test at Swinton on the 1929-30 Kangaroo tour. Australia had won the initial encounter, at Hull, 31-8, and Britain had squared the series with a 9-3 victory at Leeds.
The Swinton match was a traditionally tough one, with neither side being able to score – at least, not until the brilliant Australian halfback Joe ‘Chimpy’ Busch dived over in the corner late in the proceedings.
British loose-forward Butters dived vainly at Busch, hit the wooden corner post and tore an ear so badly that six stitches were required to sew up the gaping wound.
But the touch judge, Albert Webster, ruled it had been Busch, not Butters, who had hit the post.
Bob Robinson, one of Britain’s greatest-ever referees, was right on the spot and noted: “Fair try, Australia. But I can’t give it to you. The linesman is the sole judge of touch.”
The try was disallowed, and the match finished in a nil-all draw.
British officials were disturbed and offered to play an unprecedented fourth Test. Australia snapped up the offer.
But it was all to be in vain. The final encounter, another tough, tense affair, saw the Kangaroos beaten 3-0 and the Ashes remained in England.
In modern times the corner posts have been flimsy markers made from cardboard or sponge-rubber which bend when the slightest pressure is applied. They became no use to the players.
Luckily, the authorities saw sense and scrapped the rule.
Now there is not a weekend that goes by without some flying outside back diving through the air to plant the ball down while much, if not most, of his body is suspended outside the pitch.
Levitation with a difference! The Indian swamis would certainly approve.
I thought of this when watching the television replay of the weekend’s NRL game between South Sydney and the New Zealand Warriors.
The first try of the night, by the 19-year-old Junior Kiwi winger David Fusitu’a, must certainly rank as one of the best seen in recent seasons.
He launched himself at the tryline, but was always going to end up outside the field of play once he eventually hit the ground.
Before that could happen, and without the threat of the old corner post rule, Fusitu’a managed to reach out and touch down one-handed.
Late in the first half there was another dramatic effort, this time by Souths’ winger Bryson Goodwin. Sadly in his case his right hand touched the ground outside the pitch a fraction of a second before the ball was grounded.
But it was still a stunning effort. I am told the legendary Bob Fulton was behind the changing of the corner post rule.
And what better man to recognise amazing tries. He scored more than his fair share during his great career.