The NRL Round 2 Rubdown

It’s only Round 2 and the Dr is hopping mad. Ripping into management is a bore and a chore. Sometimes it’s just necessary, purely because leaders need to be held to a higher level of account. So when they get it wrong, then do it again, it’s go-time.

NRL, meet Channel 9 …

If the Round 1 shemozzle wasn’t enough, we begin Round 2 by scheduling games on the Sun, or, more specifically, the Gold Coast at 2pm, which is only mildly cooler. Here is yet another example in a long list of easily avoidable problems to match Round 1. Then we roll on into the perpetual argument about delayed NRL on free-to-air television. This time, however, there was a twist.

According to Channel 9′s Head of Sport, Steve Crawley, the network is quite prepared to broadcast a live Sunday afternoon game- if it’s a 4pm kick-off (so it can run into the 6pm news). Further, the NRL has stated in response that it is a “possibility, but we’d need to consider that, in the middle of the year, games would finish in the dark and may affect crowds for Sunday afternoon football”.

Hmm … Quite a few points immediately spring to mind as a result of this … what can we call it … gem? Time will possibly unveil even more ramifications, but for now:

– Given that fans were quite prepared to support the Thursday night season opener between the Bunnies and Roosters had it been played in the same sector of the galaxy in which both teams’ fans reside, and even as late as a 7pm kick-off, I would venture that ‘time’ is a confected problem at best. It’s simply not late. Throw a spag bol down the kids’ throats on the way home and they’re in bed by 8pm;

– Surely this whole exchange is a joke anyway. I know it’s not quite April 1st, but it simply has to be.

Crawley’s comment seemed to take the NRL by surprise as if they had never thought about this scheduling possibility, and therefore, by logical extension, certainly hadn’t raised it with the broadcaster. And it would appear this is the first time Channel 9 have offered this time slot. Is it actually possible? Well, there is no evidence to the contrary, and reams for the affirmative.

These are the two parties who just negotiated a billion dollar broadcast rights deal, correct?


– Can there be any doubt that the NRL is a mere pawn for Channel 9, with very little consideration from their end about the health of the sport? The NRL sells this as a partnership, but it is anything but, as we have seen repeatedly over the years, and as evidenced again in grotesque clarity even before the conclusion of Round 2, 2014.

To be clear, I have zero problem with Channel 9 seeking to make money, just as the NRL does, but there simply must be a better system of checks and balances from the NRL side – it’s their game after all, and 30 pieces of silver aren’t enhancing the experience of the fans, without whom there would be no broadcast deal.

It’s understandable that Channel 9 want to hypnotise NRL fans sufficiently to have them mindlessly hang around for the 6pm news (the entirety of which could have been gleaned from Twitter hours prior), but what about NRL fans? Anyone checked what they want? For a start, it’s not delayed telecasts …

That loss must burn? Meh …

The Knights are doing all the right things to make the Dr’s pre-season musings of 11th place a reality. Sure, it’s quite understandable that injuries have dealt them a devastating blow from which they will find it difficult to recover. And it doesn’t get any easier next week against the Storm, who have scraped home twice, but look primed to record a dominant win.

The real problem was watching some Knights players looking less than gutted about losing a game that was well within their grasp, against a Raiders team who are about as effective away from home as ET, and giving Bennett a 0-2 record for 2014. Expect to hear more about THAT. Actually, maybe not given that:

a) Apparently it’s the silent treatment that gets dished out in Newcastle these days;

b) Wayne Bennett isn’t a noted Toastmaster when it comes to talking about his team when they’re losing; and

c) if players leak anything, they will likely get the Chris Houston treatment.

There’s a lot going on under the hood at the Knights. If it isn’t injuries, the behaviour of Packer, Mason, or Gagai hinting at internal instability, it’s Tinkler and bank guarantees. I could be wrong, but alarm bells seem to be ringing.

Who says you can’t sell the top of a bubble? Watch the interchange …

Andrew Fifita has just accomplished a rare feat, and one which very few can claim to have emulated. Not even the best traders at Goldman Sachs can say they captured the top of a bubble, but big Andrew Fifita, despite his claims as “not being the brightest in school”, clearly has a horse sense equal to Mister Ed and Sarah Jessica Parker combined.

What he has done is convince the Bulldogs to pay him 850,000 a year, despite being more an emerging star than tried-and-tested, and just as the game hits a tipping point in player salaries in my opinion (In a positional sense).

That’s right, tipping point. Has anyone seen Jamie Buhrer conjure such magic late in the game such as he did against Souths on Friday? Has everyone been noticing how the smaller, more agile players are re-emerging as potent threats now that the game has sped up (even just a little)?

And don’t close your ears to the cacophony of players and commentators agitating for fewer interchanges. I wrote about this a year ago, and Paul Gallen is a well known and vocal proponent of it. Fitness and natural attrition are part of the fabric of rugby league, enabling players of all sizes the opportunity at glory, not the faux-NFL it seems to have strived to emulate in recent years.

That’s a game where fitness is optional and subordinate to sheer size, simply because the pace of play is so mind-numbingly slow. It’s not rugby league.

Expect the interchange rule to be amended soon (which could mean next year or the one after at NRL-pace), and for salaries to increasingly reflect not only utility value, but sheer speed. I would also expect a subtle drop in the average player weight to accommodate a higher workload and required fitness.

The upshot is that a far wider range of players need to be accommodated to suit a faster game, not just the spine of the team. Time to dust off the Beaver Menzies prototype. Never know, a year or two someone not wearing 1, 6, 7 or 9 might win a Dally M!

A blind eye to Obstructions

Speaking of NFL trends, Beau Champion has become somewhat of an expert in obstructing attacking players chasing through on the high ball and protecting his catcher. I only single him out because his first two matches this year were quite notable for the practice. The reality is that every team has players who speed into the path of chasers and non-ball carriers, then just stand there as if they’re whistling Dixie on a Sunday stroll. They don’t even seem to feign an attempt to catch the ball any more, and there’s so much wool in the heads of the pink clowns called referees that it’s child’s play to pull it over their eyes.

The rule for Obstruction in this case (Section 15 of the NRL rules under Misconduct) is now honoured in the breach rather than the observance, with referees oblivious to the whole charade.

The NRL is always slow to deal with trends such as this (where exhibits include cannonball and associated tackles, hands on the ball in the ruck and so on), and it was increasingly evident all the way through 2013. It’s time to put this one to bed – it’s not in the spirit of the game, and, well, it’s against the rules.

A blind eye to the head high – the subtle, implicit message


Hello sailor!

Hello sailor!

In a stunning display of incompetence, none of Gavin Badger, Brett Suttor or Chris Ward felt that Parramatta’s Darcy Lussick trying to reenact a Tower of London-style beheading of the Roosters’ Jared Warea-Hargreaves (JWH) was worthy of a send-off.

JWH Lussick 2Along with the fact it was high, intentional and peripheral (not head on), it not only looked appalling, but is was measurably worse than the tackle that earned JWH an early shower and five weeks on the sideline last year. Even more galling was the fact that he followed it up with an indenti-kit version of the JWH’s 2013 send off tackle immediately after.

I’m a stickler for careless and/or intentional head contact. I don’t find particularly brave because the ball-carrier is somewhat defenceless, and it comes on top of a week where concussion was THE major story dominating the news feed. How can the referees allow this one through to the keeper? It was atrocious, whoever did it, and whomever they did it to. The accompanying pictures show the contact and result quite

The subtle messages from this incident are quite simple to decipher:

1. It matters – quite a lot – who you are – Certain players have a reputation with the judiciary that precedes them, and in many cases it’s largely historical.

JWH is one of those, and it treated far differently as a result. He (or a player with a similar reputation) is punished more severely for identical transgressions, and anyone who fouls him (or, once again, a similar player) is treated far more leniently. Last year, spear tackles were dealt with less harshly than the JWH tackle that had him sent off against Manly, and similar/worse tackles followed without a send-off or similar penalty.

2. It matters – a lot – what the outcome is – had JWH stayed down on the ground (injured or otherwise) after either tackle on Saturday night, especially the first, the chances of Lussick being sent off would have risen dramatically. In a period where the long term effects of head contact is topical to the point of being viral, it is the time now, more than ever, to punish the act, not just the consequences.

It just may well be that the consequences aren’t evident for years. Isn’t that what the column inches and TV shows have been about?

As an update on the grading, it is laughable that a Grade 4 Reckless tackle of the type we saw on Saturday is open to a 4-week ban if it is contested and won.

It should have been categorised as Intentional. The penalty (in weeks) is not proportional to the offence in any way, and the pictures tell you why. The last one highlights how Lussick obtained the extra leverage required to snap JWH’s head back so hard. Tiger Woods doesn’t have that much snap in his golf swing!

The madness of crowds … and crowds

The large-scale frothing of the mouth and navel gazing following the Round 1 crowds debacle turned out to be the insane ramblings of those who think their dog is a cat because they both have four legs.

As mentioned last week, it was the NRL brass that got it irretrievably wrong, and that crowd numbers were not a reflection of fans’ disinterest.

Fast forward to Round 2 and we’re averaging a healthier 17,938 against Round 1′s 15,823 (And tonight should also be in the 15-20k region). There’s certainly room to improve, but if commentators and punters can refrain from pure extrapolation, I’m sure we’d all be better off.

Gareth Widdop, I humbly apologise

Having tarred Gareth Widdop with the same Brush as Adam Blair, no matter what happens from this point on, I can admit to being horribly wrong.

Widdop was, or so I thought, a player elevated to a greater station and reputation than he deserved on the back of the Storm’s ‘Big 3′. This isn’t an unusual result of their brilliance, amd they make a lot of average journeymen look like world beaters.

I called Adam Blair on it from day one. However, Gareth Widdop has shown so much skill, poise and direction in just two NRL matches that my head is spinning. Given what he now means to the Dragons, he must surely be the single best buy in the NRL. If he’s not, he’s in the semi finals!

NRL Oscars

The nominations for best actor are flowing in already. We still have one game left to play in Round 2, and the standout performers are currently:

Anthony Minichiello – for his role alongside Robert de Niro and Robin Williams in Awakenings

David ‘Wolfman’ Williams – for his role in the touching biography of Rod Wishart – the man run down by the other slowest guy on the field.

Congratulations gentlemen, I’m sure you will be joined by other worthy nominees.


10 thoughts on “The NRL Round 2 Rubdown

  1. Hello Doctor,
    Twitter was not the right medium to discuss Champion’s supposed obstructions. I don’t recall the specific incidents in question but, from your description “just stand there as if they’re whistling Dixie”, they might have fallen into this category:

    “It will NOT be considered an obstruction in regards to a player catching the ball from a kick if:
    1 . A defending player moves directly towards the ball; and
    2 . Takes up a position prior to the ball being caught”
    (from the 2013 NRL Laws & Interpretations)

    As for the charge of not in the spirit of the game, remember that an *on-side* defender is not obliged to get out of the way of attacking players – quite the opposite in fact. He has as much right to that space on the field as the attacking player, and more right if he gets there first. It’s a legitimate defensive position against a bat-back to an attacking player who is not contesting the mark.

    • Twitter? I had a brief exchange on Twitter, followed by this (badly formatted) blog…

      Anyway, Points well made and thanks for the response. Champion was just the example, by the way, noting that all teams now engage in the practice. It doesn’t bother me who does it, it’s the act of obstructing itself that I would prefer minimised. Nothing against Beau Champion – great player!

      I wonder if you could direct me to that quote, because I’m always up for learning. I’ll keep looking, but must’ve overlooked it.

      In any case, I wonder how it squares with:

      “Obstruction can be either active, passive or accidental. Passive obstruction is where a player impedes an opponent by deliberately remaining in his path although he has had the opportunity to remove himself. If a player is in position which is likely to cause obstruction and he feels that any movement by him may aggravate the situation he should raise his hands above his head and thus indicate to the Referee that he is taking no part in the play.”


      “It is illegal to obstruct any opponent not in possession …”

      Or this from the Ref’s Handbook:

      “A defending player shielding a catcher from attacking players must position himself early. It will be interpreted as obstruction if the defender:

      a) Arrives at the same time as the attacking chasers and deliberately obstructs the catching of the high ball.
      b) Deliberately runs the attacking chasers off the football.”

      Or from the Glossary:

      “Obstruction : is the illegal act of impeding an opponent who does not have the ball”

      So you’re very right to say a defender is not obliged to get out of the way of attacking players, but I think there’s an issue when they purposefully move to obstruct, and do so on a player without the ball.

      I’d like to see this (relatively new) feature of the game consigned to the dustbin … That’s just me.

      Whistling Dixie was just a bit of poetic licence (but not vey poetic as it turns out).

      Anything to improve the contest is my motto 🙂

      • Hello again Doctor,
        I was involved in the brief twitter exchange which is why I mentioned it, and only from the point of view that rugby league obstruction discussions are not suited to the length limits there. I also understand Champion is just an example and I’m not arguing because of that, even though I’m a Souths supporter.

        The fundamental problem with enforcing obstruction rules is that obstruction is very poorly defined. I’m not aware of any document that defines a defender merely *standing* in the path that an opponent may wish to take (or may not – no mind readers playing the game) as illegal obstruction; as I said in the first post, there are cases in which the position where the defender needs to stand to do his job happens also to be where the attacker also wants to run. In absence of official ruling, I personally don’t consider this to be obstruction (even when another team does it to Souths). We obviously differ in that opinion though. The rules do however talk about cases where attacker and defender arrive at the same time so this is a different case.

        You gave a quote from the Ref’s Handbook. The same words are reproduced in the “2013 NRL Laws and Interpretations”, followed immediately by my quote from the first post. My quote is essentially a qualifier or clarification to one of your own.

        I believe that obstruction by defenders traditionally meant cases where the defender initiates contact with an attacking player not in possession but stops short of making a tackle. Things like bumping or shirt-pulling.

        Ultimately, I don’t want to see a rule imposed which limits where on-side defenders can stand. I think the attack should have to go around or through the defensive line which is set as best as the defending team can (legally). I also consider moves to remove these ‘escort’ players as dumbing-down. If they work, the attacking side should develop ways to negate the practice through creative play. This can include setting up a decoy passing play that engages the defending centre so he doesn’t have time to adjust to the kick, or a shorter kick towards the centres rather than the wingers. Putting up a bomb without any support play is pretty basic stuff and deserves no special reward in my book.

        Aside: I’ve just found this in the rule book. Not sure what to make of it.
        “The player who is in possession of the ball cannot be guilty of
        obstruction. He can make use of the goal posts to avoid a tackle,
        or dodge behind a ruck of his own players or bore a way through
        his own pack.”

      • Allo allo Stephen,

        Beginning with your last quote first, I also saw that when looking through the rule book, but left it alone because I thought I might have been in the twilight zone. It’s actually hilarious, and a great example why the NRL should engage (and entertain!) a skilled copywriter who has a feel for the game (hint hint) and rule book continuity. It has clearly fallen through the cracks and away from prying eyes because it doesn’t make any sense at all. I’m struggling to see a time when it would have made sense, and it should be simply struck out.

        Goal posts? Fine. But your own players, and a ruck of them at that? The only person who bores through a pack these days is Tom Raudonikis, and it’s a pack of Winnie blues. Maybe it’s there in the David Brent style of comedy, or irony, I don’t know. It’s just odd that a section dealing with obstruction then highlights a doozy of an example and calls it ‘not obstruction’.

        Obstruction is less poorly defined than it is subjective, I think. There are so many examples where similar attacking plays attract different rulings because the decoy runner is ‘deemed’ to either have had, or not had, a material effect on the defence when a try is scored. Personally, I think if you understand angles and balance it’s quite simple to determine whether or not a player has been impeded from making a tackle (or getting to the ball), or has has just made a ‘bad read’ in defence. Some video ref decisions astound me, especially with so-called experts (former players) in the box. I’ve had a few choice things to say about them in the past. They seem to get too caught up in the defenders hitting the deck hoping for a penalty without due consideration for the flow of the play.

        One thing I think we can agree on is that standing still, or ‘holding your ground’, is perfectly acceptable, and is in fact a time-honoured tradition. But a defender moving into the path of an attacker is a no-no, and you hint at that when referring to cases like a ‘bump’ where “the defender initiates contact with an attacking player it in possession but stops short of making a tackle”. We see this on chip kicks or grubbers through the defensive line all the time. I’ve even seen defenders penalised for merely bracing for impact with a chip kick chaser while holding their position (I guess because it ‘looks’ like they’ve made an effort to impede).

        I see the high ball situation as the same. Holding your ground, if you happen to be between the chasers and catcher, is certainly ok, but actively moving into that obstructing position (like the chip kick situation) should be penalised unless there is an attempt to secure the ball. Even if there is no impact (and with the old-style ‘shepherd’ there often wasn’t) the obstructor is forcing the attacker/chaser onto a new path. The only time this is acceptable (forcing a change of path) is when a player is in a race for the ball, in which case, the body can be used by either player to nudge the other away from the ball (without pushing or grabbing).

        So I don’t know if we agree or not now! I believe in ‘holding your ground’ and that attackers/chasers have to go around or through the defence, but at the same time, that defence can’t actively move into a position solely to obstruct.

        Regards …

        Sent from my iPad


  2. Brilliant as always. The crowds “debate turned simply into mass hysteria, with no look at the underlying factors for why the crowds were down. it seemed the media, again, was arguing with itself — without asking the fans why they didn’t turn up. It then became the incredibly insane argument that it was because players don’t talk to the media (even though they do).

    Never have the players been more accessible, they just choose a different medium i.e. Twitter, Instagram or their club websites. The media is drowning in its own irrelevance, and it’s trying to grab onto any life raft it can even if it’s a plank of driftwood, as the crowds debate was.

    Soon they’ll be nothing more than Jack in Titanic, a hindrance to Rose (RL) surviving.

  3. Thanks JJ!

    The media access point you make is a good one. Already we’ve seen the poisonous attacks on David Smith once he turned off the bat phone to the Tele, and the continued malevolence from the same source.

    As Mascord says, traditional media has become more about entertainment and shock headlines than disseminating actual information, which is what the net, FB, Twitter etc have become.

  4. Doctor Doctor,
    No reply button on your last post; not sure whether just a limit of the software or you’re trying to give me a hint. If the latter, you’ll have to be less subtle, evidently…

    Do we agree? I think we agree that the bizarre non-obstruction example belongs on a roll in the water closet.

    On the escorts/blockers, I think we are just drawing our own subjective lines at a slightly different location. For whatever reason, these escorts don’t bother me (I gave a reason in my second post) and that may colour my view on the subject. Your view of standing ground extends only to the defender’s position when the kick was made, while I allow any position that can be established clearly (stationary) and legally before the chasing player arrives such that the defender is not initiating contact (and I latch onto the NRL Laws & Interpretations to support that). I hope I didn’t misrepresent your view there.

    With a chip kick, it’s practically impossible to establish a stationary position that will impede the chaser unless already standing there when the kick is made. I doubt we disagree at all in that case.

    I would be interested in your thoughts on whether a defender, leading a chase but running slower than the attacking chaser would prefer and therefore forcing the attacker to go around, is illegally obstructing the attacker. Is the answer different depending on whether the defender is a winger taking it a bit easy, or a prop who is running flat out but still not particularly fast? (ie same outcome but different reason/intent on the defender’s part)

    • Hi,

      Same happened here, not sure why… defeinitely nothing preconceived. This is what comments are for – debate 🙂

      On the chip kick, I think it is entirely possible to stand there with hands up and allow the chaser through if you can’t take part in the play, and I’ve seen it done. However, it happens so fast that most can’t help themselves but put the shoulder in as if they’re wearing Harry potter’s cloak. Alas …

      This whole blog began in order to suggest ways to improve the game. Where the rules are there, I’ll ask why they’re not being observed or officiated, and also why the referees don’t seem to know the basics at times.

      I’ll also suggest some … ok, many … of my own that don’t interefere with the fabric of the game, and result in more quality football being played. The obstruction falls into both, I think (and I don’t even need to go into the palaver that the attacking obstruction became under Anderson).

      To me, in its simplest form, obstruction is when someone else tries to get in the way of others who want to play football, so I’ll never like shepherding catchers.

      As for your last hypothetical, the body is allowed to be used to jostle your opponent when racing for a ball. You are allowed to get in his way as you attempt to improve your position to recover the ball, and that’s the important point.

      Once again, it happens so fast that I doubt the defender is thinking about whether to do fish tails or cartwheels, or in any other way create a diversion (diversions are for politicians!). It’s a foot race, and you can use the shoulder without otherwise pushing or grabbing – but not if you’re not even attempting to retrive the ball. And in so doing, you can also try to force the opponent to take a longer path to the ball which, if you’re slower, increases the probability of you gathering up the ball. This is a referee’s judgement call, and it’s worth noting I have never seen these types of fun & games or rugby league subterfuge … just a mad race.

      The man in your example would be illegally obstructing were he not be chasing the ball, and only seeking to obstruct (which could happen if there was a team mate also in the race).


      • Hello, thanks for the reply. I don’t have anything to add to the original discussion. Your position is consistent and I could certainly live with it but I’d prefer more creative attacking play to evolve in response to escorts as I already said. I expect (hope) that it would result in more genuine aerial contests and fewer bat-backs.

        The reason for this follow-up is that I’ve realised what’s wrong with the Twilight Zone rule: ‘cannot’ in the first sentence and ‘can’ in the second have been swapped so it says the opposite of what’s intended.

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