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Super League: what have you done to our game?


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Just occasionally thrilling and dramatic: too often tedious, sometimes unpleasant, occasionally ugly; a brutally uncomfortable and relentless contest of high speed impact; wrestling, pushing, pulling, twisting; with little of the flow and movement and visible skills which should be the foundation of the sport. The game has become, too often, not a spectacle which will attract new fans, new investment, a new demographic; or retain existing enthusiasts.

This is not down to Leigh, Featherstone, Wakefield’s ground, old supporters, forum negativity, misunderstood nostalgia, the structure of the divisions, Keir Starmer, the course of the River Calder, or the salary cap. It will not be solved by beer tents, DJs, hoping for the best, fireworks, waiting for the end of covid, playing top-trump positivity on a forum, seeking to attract millionaires. It will most certainly not be solved just by altering the divisional structure.

This is down to SL, the visible arm of the game, the part with exposure, profile, control, which has allowed and encouraged rule interpretation to drift towards a sport dominated by size and power.  Perhaps summed up by “Why bother with craft to beat a defensive line when the defensive line can be battered into fracturing?” Recruitment, coaching, training, are all firmly tied in to the impact aspect which now dominates the game. Do you not wonder, when the biggest celebration of a game is often when five defenders push a single ball carrier into touch or back over his own line? Is that the best we’ve got?

Briefly, the game on the field needs to be made more attractive to potential fans and potential players, more watchable, more playable.

Only Super League can lead this. The good news is that a great deal of initial progress could be made simply with re-interpretations of the rules.

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Three possible starting points:

If the referee were to call “held” when the ball carrier’s forward progress comes to a halt (this may still be in the laws), and then strictly enforce no movement forward by the ball carrier and no continuation of the tackle by the defenders it would reduce wrestling and reduce the need for strength and power players.

If the defensive line was very strictly kept on-side, the referee not sprinting forward to avoid giving too many penalties, there would be more opportunities for the attack to spread the ball and look for means to evade to defence, and a greater need for creative ball handlers and evasive runners.

If “avoidable” contact with the head was penalised properly, tackles would become lower, tackling technique would change, the ball carrier would be put on the ground faster, the game would look better and more playable, the physical qualities required by the players would change, perhaps producing players with a wider range of skills, some of which would be easier for potential new enthusiasts to appreciate.

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I agree with your walking off the mark point. Such a lot of ugly slavver comes from this.

Not sure about the offside/extra space argument though. I remember the 10m offside would create extra space for more creative rugby but it just allowed safe easy metres from repeated carting the ball in. 

I think the ugly wrestle is there to allow the defence to retreat 10m, a completed tackle straight away puts the defence in a awkward position.

Sounds daft but a 7m offside might help these situations. Might not either of course. 

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Having been converted to RL in the 1980's having played for Sheffield Poly before having seen a live game, it really was exciting, didn't go back to Goodison Park for over two decades. Couldn't take your eyes off the game for a minute. A lot has changed since the 80's, I can now go for a cup of tea and come back and nothing has happened. 

Half joking I did say at the Leigh game on Sunday, that if I wanted to watch penalty kicks all game I should be watching Sale Sharks. 

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7 hours ago, Cerulean said:

If the referee were to call “held” when the ball carrier’s forward progress comes to a halt (this may still be in the laws), and then strictly enforce no movement forward by the ball carrier and no continuation of the tackle by the defenders it would reduce wrestling and reduce the need for strength and power players.

I agree with most of your identification of the maladies, but not with the remedies, particularly the one above.

Premature "held" calls limit the potential for offloads, especially defence-opening late offloads. The result would be an increase in runs out of dummy-half and humdrum one-out hit-ups with no thought of promoting the ball out of the tackle. The exact opposite of what you desire.

In my view, the overarching reason players are deterred from being creative is the effects of the RL instinct to see obstructions, knock-ons, forward passes. Our officials are imbued with this attitude. Hence they go out looking for things to call rather than play on. Crowds and media constantly demand it.

Players and coaches get the message that the safest way to prevent the ref calling something against them is to stick to the aforementioned runs out of dummy-half and one-out hit-ups. Anything expansive or intricate might bring a call of obstruction, knock-on, forward pass. It just isn`t worth the risk of turning the ball over. So the default setting is - complete your sets/get to your kick/build pressure.

There is no reason why running behind your own player should be regarded as obstruction. No reason why a little bobble should be regarded as a knock-on. No reason why a flat pass should be regarded as forward. These are all interpretative choices which constrict and diminish the game. We need a permissive "play-on" culture. 

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7 hours ago, corvusxiii said:

Not sure about ...

I think ...

... Might not either of course...

Honest and important qualifiers. We don't know what the solutions are, and they won't be easy, but what is important is that those in control give some consideration to the attractiveness of the game as it is played.

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10 hours ago, corvusxiii said:

I agree with your walking off the mark point. Such a lot of ugly slavver comes from this.

Not sure about the offside/extra space argument though. I remember the 10m offside would create extra space for more creative rugby but it just allowed safe easy metres from repeated carting the ball in. 

I think the ugly wrestle is there to allow the defence to retreat 10m, a completed tackle straight away puts the defence in a awkward position.

Sounds daft but a 7m offside might help these situations. Might not either of course. 

I'm sure that 7 metres would improve things, I'd go further and allow tacklers more time to release the tackled player as used to be the case.

I suggest that the main reason why the game is so one-dimensional now is that the combination of the 10 metre rule and the weird obsession with super fast play-the-balls has made getting back onside before the next play extremely difficult for defenders.  The result is that it's too easy for teams to advance the ball up and down the field when they have possession (even with a conservative style of play) so they can afford to play it safe nowadays.

Edited by Big Picture
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Tactical changes by coaches would have occurred regardless of SL, its just utterly stupid to blame SL for coaches getting smarter.

Throughout the games history coaches have always been ahead of the games executive body at exploiting the laws, hence we always have to change the laws after the coaches have taken advantage. Limited tackles were brought in to combat the shove it up your jumper tactics, offside law changed from scrum to penalty to stop exploiting a weaker opposition pack, drop goal value reduced to stop drop goals being used as the go to scoring method. All these changes had to happen 20-30 years before SL, why, because coaches were killing the game with negative tactics to win games.

The successful coaches don't care about entertainment, they only care about winning, if ruining the game as a spectacle is a casualty of his team winning he couldn't care less as it will keep him in a job.

If coaches were paid only by a percentage of gate money they would soon change their tactics.

 

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I’d start with:

- reducing the subs to 2, for injuries only

- getting the refs to re-evaluate (1) how they interpret high tackles, which seems to be shoulders or above (2) forward passes and knock ons, which they seem to give too liberally whenever the ball goes to ground

- making tap re-starts from a bomb caught anywhere in your own 10 or behind the line on the 40m line.  Too many boring/unskilled tries scored from nothing kicks; too tempting to do them to pin the oppo back even if you don’t get the ball, discourages good handling skills 

- penalising wrestling on the floor

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3 minutes ago, Cerulean said:

Thank you for the contribution. 

I would like to thank you for yours, but I couldn't in reality stoop so low.

Visit my photography site www.padge.smugmug.com

Radio 5 Live: Saturday 14 April 2007

Dave Whelan "In Wigan rugby will always be king"

 

This country's wealth was created by men in overalls, it was destroyed by men in suits.

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penalising wrestling on the floor

But they(the authorities) have to allow the wrestling  in order to give the defense time to retreat 10m. Officiate as per the 'rules' and the defense would be offside practically every ptb.  Hence a smaller offside means less need to wrestle as the defense has less distance to retreat. 

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13 hours ago, Cerulean said:

Just occasionally thrilling and dramatic: too often tedious, sometimes unpleasant, occasionally ugly; a brutally uncomfortable and relentless contest of high speed impact; wrestling, pushing, pulling, twisting; with little of the flow and movement and visible skills which should be the foundation of the sport. The game has become, too often, not a spectacle which will attract new fans, new investment, a new demographic; or retain existing enthusiasts.

This is not down to Leigh, Featherstone, Wakefield’s ground, old supporters, forum negativity, misunderstood nostalgia, the structure of the divisions, Keir Starmer, the course of the River Calder, or the salary cap. It will not be solved by beer tents, DJs, hoping for the best, fireworks, waiting for the end of covid, playing top-trump positivity on a forum, seeking to attract millionaires. It will most certainly not be solved just by altering the divisional structure.

This is down to SL, the visible arm of the game, the part with exposure, profile, control, which has allowed and encouraged rule interpretation to drift towards a sport dominated by size and power.  Perhaps summed up by “Why bother with craft to beat a defensive line when the defensive line can be battered into fracturing?” Recruitment, coaching, training, are all firmly tied in to the impact aspect which now dominates the game. Do you not wonder, when the biggest celebration of a game is often when five defenders push a single ball carrier into touch or back over his own line? Is that the best we’ve got?

Briefly, the game on the field needs to be made more attractive to potential fans and potential players, more watchable, more playable.

Only Super League can lead this. The good news is that a great deal of initial progress could be made simply with re-interpretations of the rules.

Not much of this holds up to much scrutiny and if anything comes across as the "misunderstood nostalgia" you mention in paragraph 2. People have been predicting RL's demise since it first started, and I would suggest that if you (and others) can't see much flow, movement or skill in the modern game then the issue is how you are viewing the game and how the game is covered as much as any issue with what happens on the field itself.

1 - The trend towards size and power is an arms race essentially seen across all sports. Players are also far more skillful than previously, there's just less opportunity to demonstrate it than previously. It's easy to have good footwork when every defensive line is a dog's leg and there's turned hips galore. There's still plenty of little skillful blokes running around - Saints are back to back champions and in their starting team at the minute they've got Grace, Percival, Dodd, Lomax, Roby all of which are not particularly big or strong blokes. 

2 - Craft is obviously preferred to battering a team into breaking because the former has a much smaller physical cost. Clearly teams would prefer to put the ball through eight pairs of hands and score untouched rather than go set-for-set with teams, that just isn't always feasible. While there is some role here for coaching (and you'll see this with the better teams being 'on' on every play), some of this is just the reality of the game.

12 hours ago, Cerulean said:

Three possible starting points:

If the referee were to call “held” when the ball carrier’s forward progress comes to a halt (this may still be in the laws), and then strictly enforce no movement forward by the ball carrier and no continuation of the tackle by the defenders it would reduce wrestling and reduce the need for strength and power players.

If the defensive line was very strictly kept on-side, the referee not sprinting forward to avoid giving too many penalties, there would be more opportunities for the attack to spread the ball and look for means to evade to defence, and a greater need for creative ball handlers and evasive runners.

If “avoidable” contact with the head was penalised properly, tackles would become lower, tackling technique would change, the ball carrier would be put on the ground faster, the game would look better and more playable, the physical qualities required by the players would change, perhaps producing players with a wider range of skills, some of which would be easier for potential new enthusiasts to appreciate.

Again I think these are some over-simplistic solutions and they probably wouldn't work, even if there is a problem - you've essentially just suggested three things that already happen. Referees already do call held when forward progress has stopped. Most wrestling occurs on the way to the ground and in the fight up to PTB, it isn't really done standing typically. 

The defensive line is already kept onside. The alternative is seeing 30 penalties a game for things that don't impact play.

Contact with the head is penalised and teams aren't going to tackle lower while winning the ruck area is so important. 

 

2 hours ago, Tonka said:

I’d start with:

- reducing the subs to 2, for injuries only

- getting the refs to re-evaluate (1) how they interpret high tackles, which seems to be shoulders or above (2) forward passes and knock ons, which they seem to give too liberally whenever the ball goes to ground

- making tap re-starts from a bomb caught anywhere in your own 10 or behind the line on the 40m line.  Too many boring/unskilled tries scored from nothing kicks; too tempting to do them to pin the oppo back even if you don’t get the ball, discourages good handling skills 

- penalising wrestling on the floor

Reducing the number of subs risks turning the game even more one-out and into more of an energy battle. Why try and move the ball when fatigue is now a bigger factor than ever before? You actually have seen this effect with the introduction of the set restart - more one-out carries, fewer offloads. You would also see backs selected even more for carrying in yardage - they would pick up a disproportionate amount of the additional carries, with the middles unable to reduce their defensive load. 

If too many tries are scored from nothing kicks, maybe the issue is poor catching from the defence? This would just see more grubbers for repeat sets, and more teams running it on the last to turn it over in a corner.

Wrestling on the floor is penalised. Again, if you reduce the wrestling, you may just see quicker PTBs and therefore more incentive to just take easy metres off of a scoot. If teams don't want slow PTBs, maybe they should do something to earn a quick PTB? 

  

4 hours ago, Big Picture said:

I'm sure that 7 metres would improve things, I'd go further and allow tacklers more time to release the tackled player as used to be the case.

I suggest that the main reason why the game is so one-dimensional now is that the combination of the 10 metre rule and the weird obsession with super fast play-the-balls has made getting back onside before the next play extremely difficult for defenders.  The result is that it's too easy for teams to advance the ball up and down the field when they have possession (even with a conservative style of play) so they can afford to play it safe nowadays.

This may be true - there's less incentive to try and move the ball (in yardage especially) if you can typically make 40m a set with pretty basic carries. The counterpoint might be that if it's a 7m offside line (or a much slower PTB), typically you're almost always going to have any late retreaters back in the line and ready to come forward again. Typically attacking teams will play until they get late retreaters (or a mismatch) and spot that and shift the ball on that play - if you virtually never have late retreaters then tries may become much harder to come by. Teams can normally drift well enough to cover a 1 man overlap. 

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1 hour ago, Saint 1 said:

The trend towards size and power is an arms race essentially seen across all sports. Players are also far more skillful than previously, there's just less opportunity to demonstrate it than previously. It's easy to have good footwork when every defensive line is a dog's leg and there's turned hips galore. There's still plenty of little skillful blokes running around - Saints are back to back champions and in their starting team at the minute they've got Grace, Percival, Dodd, Lomax, Roby all of which are not particularly big or strong blokes. 

Wouldn’t apply to football. The best player on the planet for the last decade is 5’7”. Last week Harvey Elliot, a wirey, 5’7” 18 year old ran the game for Liverpool. The game is quicker as players are faster due to advances in training/diet, but ultimately it’s a skill based sport where ability/technique is king. Ade Akinbiyi (former Leicester striker) was built like a brick sh+house, big, strong, powerful, quick as lightning, but couldn’t trap a bag of cement. Being bulkier is a hindrance as seen by Lukaku having to drag that big muscular frame around the field which left him sweating bucketloads, and unable to keep up with play. His time in Italy (with dieticians) helped him to alleviate some of these issues.

Brian O’Driscoll. A player I loved watching (especially in his early days when he was wirey and elusive). RU did him a disservice as his immense talent was only seen in fits and starts as he spent the vast majority of games bogged down by the attritional nature of the sport. 18 stone meatheads with nowhere near his ability could largely shut him down. An equivalent limited type in football (not that any could exist at the top level) would get roasted by a skilful player. 

 

Fascinating reading the OP’s points as it’s a perception I have of RL, albeit I’m far less informed. It just looked like a more open game previously, with more space to roam (this certainly was the case with RU before it got bogged down by gym monkeys). I don’t see the eye catching plays that players could make in the past. The wrestle, the holding on to players who are desperate to get up, the general spoiling/stifling of play. It’s very hard for individuals to really stand out, and in turn become stars. 

Edited by DC77
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If proper scrummaging was brought back then the pack would need to be proper, ie the props actually be props.

We currently have props who are 6'4 etc

I never thought about a rule for a catch on the full although think this is unfair without unlimited tackles.

I like the idea of players not having to retreat 10m, maybe backfoot, remove the markers and therefore the need for the wrestle is removed as the emphasis would be to stand up and defend ASAP

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4 minutes ago, yipyee said:

If proper scrummaging was brought back then the pack would need to be proper, ie the props actually be props.

Do you mean the scrums that were an utter mess and mostly end in a penalty or the ones that nobody alive today actually has ever seen?

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Radio 5 Live: Saturday 14 April 2007

Dave Whelan "In Wigan rugby will always be king"

 

This country's wealth was created by men in overalls, it was destroyed by men in suits.

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38 minutes ago, Padge said:

Do you mean the scrums that were an utter mess and mostly end in a penalty or the ones that nobody alive today actually has ever seen?

The ones where the ball went in the middle and the hookers hooked.

Would be even more interesting when teams used to pack down with the nearest men to stop the clock and they had to stay in those positions.

We would actually see some proper hookers like Kieron Cunningham and terry newton back in the game instead of a scrum half or stand off or a junior repping in.

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2 hours ago, yipyee said:

If proper scrummaging was brought back then the pack would need to be proper, ie the props actually be props.

We currently have props who are 6'4 etc

"Eeey Oop.... Bring back real scrooms. Like we 'ad in t' 1970s. That way we can cling to t'past even more than we do now."

What a nonsensical suggestion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(And I like a scrum in RL more than most on here... But 'scrummaging' FFS... Give us a break.)

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9 hours ago, Padge said:

....

For Padge:

Oops! Can I apologise? The highlighting of the phrase was not meant to reflect back on you or your post, which was an important one, determinedly stated. It was that I felt that the phrase was unneccesarily harsh within the discussion: but that's my problem, not yours. Perhaps I'm not suited to internet forum discussion.

Again, apologies.

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I think less obsession about every tiny knock on or slightly forward pass would be a definite help. Watching RU pretty much every game there are a number of slight 'bobbles' of the ball at the ruck which refs ignore. We should do the same. Another thing I'd consider from RU is a much bigger advantage law. Why not allow the attacking team a free tackle regardless of what they make of it?

While not necessarily advocating for the return of scrums, we need more plays where forwards are out of it. Like how about instead of letting them break when the ball comes out, they have to stay in contact with the scrum until the PTB after the first tackle is completed. Forwards are so fit and quick that they can help push a full defensive line to either side of the pitch as fast as the attacking team can move it.

On top of all that we need to enable more contests for possession. Why not let opposing players strike at the PTB? It was banned but nobody has ever said why. I don't remember it being widespread, there were a few who tried it often (Schoey was one) but most players never did.

Ultimately we might even need to consider more radical solutions like reducing teams to 12 a side or something.

Anyway, above all, involve only former players and coaches in developing rule changes, with the simple edict of entertainment. The absolute worst people to be involved are current coaches. they don't care about entertainment, they care about winning.

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7 hours ago, Saint 1 said:

... I would suggest that if you (and others) can't see much flow, movement or skill in the modern game then the issue is how you are viewing the game and how the game is covered as much as any issue with what happens on the field itself....

 

Your complete post is an excellent advancement of my opening post, seriously enriching the debate.

And yes, you are right. My perception of the game is personal. The game has moved on and I have no right to expect it to revert to what I want. The issue is not me, but the general view: is the game that has evolved attractive to new markets, can it develop a new demographic, will it retain enough of the existing fans to be a base for development and expansion? Is it fine as it is, or do some changes need to be made?

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I do think we have some brain dead tactics at times.

Of particular angst for me is the insistence of every team to use outside backs in the first 3 tackles of a set. Last week that saw Ash Handley get injured because funnily enough a winger running into 3 massive forwards 20m out from his own line isn't a battle he is ever going to win. Players like Harry Newman should be getting the ball with the ability to play or run at space, not charge down a nothing alley to be instantly tackled by 3 forwards because some coach 10 years ago thought "percentages"!

 

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