The Jibbed …
As if the Knights’ off-field tribulations weren’t enough, to the point where the NRL is now forced to shepherd the beleaguered club back to health.
But the opportunity to arrest a trail of five successive losses on the field that began with the Broncos back in Round 7 was lost this weekend, simply because of the NRL’s poor review of the time-wasting rules at the beginning of the year.
As a result, Newcastle were forced to decline an attempt at goal with just minutes on the clock when a late try against the Tigers brought them to within three points. Their only option from this point was to score a try with just a couple of minutes on the clock.
The issue is that Newcastle were denied other vital scoring options to win the match. Had the clock stopped upon the awarding of the try and resumed at kick off (as recommended many times, including here and in the depths of pre-season 2013 here), then the Knights would have had the option of kicking the conversion to draw within a point.
From there, they could have:
a) made their way downfield to draw level with a field goal and force extra time;
b) forced a penalty and kicked a penalty goal to win the match; or
c) even scored that elusive try, which would have been difficult, let’s be honest, but far less of a challenge than if it were the Knights’ only option.
The NRL’s own site summarised the new rules around conversions and the last five minutes of matches thus:
“Stop the clock: During the last five minutes of a match, the clock will stop following a conversion or penalty kick at goal until play restarts at halfway. The interpretation change will add excitement during close matches, provide consistency across matches and reduce potential time-wasting.
Goal-kicking time limit: The referee will call time-off at approximately 1min 20sec following the scoring of a try. Fines will still apply to clubs when a player takes longer than 1min 40sec to take a conversion.”
I asked at the time, and will ask again – what is the point of wasting not only the initial 1min 20sec after a try (recall that’s almost 10 minutes of game-time based on the average 7.2 tries per match), but then the trudge back to the kick off (applying the first 75 minutes)?
And what’s the point about making a big deal of the last five minutes of a match where time-wasting is rife, by merely stopping the clock after the conversion?
It didn’t make sense then, it doesn’t now, and we now have an example of its shortcomings.
While the Knights were somewhat jibbed on one side of the coin, the other side was a little uglier, and they received more than their fair share of luck.
The Tigers will admit themselves that they are far from the biggest or best, or even the most intimidating packs in the NRL. Their edge has been enthusiasm and skill, with an aim to matching the opposition and allowing a free-flowing style centred around their spine to get he job done. I may get some pushback on this, but an objective view of their roster relative to other teams seems to lead inevitably to this conclusion.
The Knights’ forwards, on the other hand, aren’t quite as fast (or fit), but are big and aggressive. Their game plan against the Tigers was therefore also pretty clear – to defeat them in the middle by being hyper-aggressive, and hope their backline could capitalise. With a pack boasting Scott, Smith, Snowden, Fa’alogo, Mason et al, they already have a predisposition toward aggression.
Whether it was by specific instruction or exuberance of some other nature, their tactics verged on head-hunting, and forearms and elbows were on broad display all match. In particular, props Fa’alogo and Snowden can count themselves absurdly lucky to escape they way they did.
Fa’alogo appeared to engage in what I would call a cheap shot on Liam Fulton that, because of the way he entered the tackle, enabled some sort of plausible denial. The MRC were far too soft on this, and the result is another unlucky concussion for Fulton.
Snowden is luckier again, facing just two weeks on the sidelines for two separate charges. The clobbering he gave Bodene Thompson from behind, eyes fixed on target and fists clenched would indicate to me (at least) that a Grade 1 Careless Tackle was far too lenient, to the point of incompetence. It looked very much intentional to me, though I would have been mollified by a Reckless Grading. It makes an awful amount of difference as you can see below.
The game has proved it can survive and thrive without punching, but the NRL Match Review Committee and Judiciary (in general) have not yet moved to the next level of penalising blatant foul play. Let’s hope they give players engaging in exactly what they deserve as opposed to the wet lettuce-flogging they are receiving now.