McNamara urges caution on NRL rules

Former England coach Steve McNamara hopes Super League chiefs will pause for thought before adopting new rule changes brought in to speed up the game in Australia.

The Catalans Dragons coach thinks it is too early to assess the impact of the ‘six-again’ rule recently brought in by the NRL and the impact it could have at club and international level.

He told League Express: “The six-again rule, whilst clearly increasing the flow of the game, has the potential to really separate the stronger teams from the rest.”

McNamara said he could see the attraction of the new rule, but urged caution before any adoption of it in the northern hemisphere and he made his feelings known at a meeting of Super League coaches last week.

He added: “From what we’ve seen so far since the NRL resumed playing there is an apparent increase in the winning margins in the majority of games. We’ve had one draw (at the time of writing) and a couple of close calls, but when you see 59-0 and other one-sided scorelines we have to think seriously before jumping on board.

“There was a remit from the Super League a couple of years ago that tried to bring games closer together to create more drama and keep supporters on the end of their seats right to the end of the match, not knowing if it’s going to go one way or the other.

“Committed Rugby League fans will watch to the very end but, if you’re new to the game, and tuning in on TV for the first time you might turn off after 60 minutes because the result has already been decided.

“Of course people want to see more ball in play and attacking Rugby League, but at the same time they don’t want to be at a game where it’s 30 points to nil at half-time and the game’s dead and buried with only one possible winner.

“That was what we said we didn’t want in Super League. I’m not totally against the six-again rule and I can see the attraction, but I think it’s too soon to adopt it.”

McNamara says Super League is facing so many challenges because of the suspended season, and any rule changes, if introduced immediately, would only add to an already complex situation.

He said: “We have a potential August restart to a compacted season with a gap of 21 weeks between fixtures and then we’ll be trying to cram all those games in. The load on the players is already hard enough before we make such a significant change to the rules of the game.

“There are so many complicating factors in play at the moment. Are we just all excited to see Rugby League being played again that we think the new rules are fantastic? Would the games have been the same under the old rules? Are the Roosters that far in front of Brisbane that they would have beaten them 59-0 anyway? Nobody knows and it’s too soon to decide.

“Teams that are going behind at the moment are finding it very hard to get back into the game and I don’t know the reasons why at this stage but there is so much more than just rule changes in play at the moment including a switch to one referee and games being played behind closed doors which are having an effect.

“I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, I’m just saying let’s not jump on it straight away. Let’s look at it over a period of time and then decide whether it’s right for our game.”

As a former international coach, McNamara is keen to see parity in the rules between competing nations, but he admits that there are major differences between the NRL and Super League, and these need to be taken into account before any changes are made.

He added: “Our game is different to that in Australia, we are naturally faster in the ruck than down there. In Australia you can have the Captain’s Challenge because every game is televised and you can review video. Not every game in Super League is on TV so there are obvious differences.

“Of course it would be good to have the same rules because we are giving mixed messages to fans who like watching Super League, NRL and international Rugby League where you’ve got three different interpretations. And then you throw the English Championship into the mix and there’s another version there.

“It’s right to look at better ways of doing things, but shouldn’t we go through the International Federation to ensure we’re all playing the same rules?”

McNamara expressed his feelings alongside fellow coaches last week and he said it was a positive discussion among his colleagues.

He added: “I wasn’t strongly against, I was just expressing an opinion that the NRL has been the closest-fought competition for years in terms of results and games being in the balance until the very end. It has been a massive success and we all enjoyed watching the close contests and how fast the game was played right until the final hooter.

“As coaches, we get told what to do and then we adhere to it and get on with it. The clubs down there have done that and full credit to Peter V’landys, the new NRL chief. He made a really strong decision to put the new rules in and he didn’t flinch in the face of a lot of opposition and that was really strong leadership.

“I was like everyone else, I saw those first couple of games and thought wow, it was fast and looked great, but then you have to study it more and look into the detail.

“In all professional sport, the players play to the rules but they go right to the edge, so when we change the rules there is a period of settling in and then there is another cycle further down the line where it has to change again.

“Do we really need any more disruption this year?”