The Sin Bin - Marvin France's take on the NRL
In a playing field levelled by the salary cap, it's up to the coaches to find any edge they can - even if it means exploiting any loopholes in the rulebook.
The nature of the beast, though, is that once one coach discovers a breakthrough the rest will follow, which is exactly what’s happened with the current obsession of wrestling tactics to slow down the ruck - and it’s ruining the game as a spectacle.
There have been some scintillating matches this year, but those have been far outnumbered by the number of dour contests as the battle to “win the wrestle” strangles the attacking life out of the sport.
Wrestling has been the rage for the past six years once everyone saw how successfully Craig Bellamy was using it with the Storm. Now every club has a wrestling coach and gone are the days of the bootlace tackle - it’s all about holding up the ball runner and twisting him in all sorts of directions to give the defence as much time as possible to get set.
The stats prove it’s working with the three seconds it used to take for a play-the-ball a decade ago tripling in time. The flip side of that, however, is the free-flowing, off-the-cuff attack that attracts most people to rugby league is virtually non-existent.
Playmakers just don’t have the time and space to launch anything creative, hence attack is now all about yardage, set-plays and kicking to the corners.
Thankfully, some of the main culprits are waking up; Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett has admitted wrestling was making the game “boring” and endangering its value ahead of the upcoming TV rights negotiations.
It was indeed rich coming from the Knights boss, who is partly the root of the problem. Yet the coaches aren’t solely to blame, as alluded to earlier, they’re just doing their job. It’s up to the referees and officials to stamp it out.
Ultimately, the speed of the ruck rests with the refs and you can be sure that once they start to crack down coaches will listen. The only problem is, as refs boss Bill Harrigan admitted, the players aren’t breaking any rules.
“Until the tackle is complete or we call ‘held’ there is nothing illegal about it,” he said. This has to change.
The NRL has shown in the past with its tough stance on player behaviour that it isn’t afraid to come down on issues affecting the sport. Despite the odd minor problem, the game has done a good job in cleaning up its act off the field. Now it’s time to address what’s happening on it.