How long before asterisks (*) accompany try- and point-scoring records in the NRL, with games, as uncontested as a Putin election, ending in blowouts?
Round 16’s “Stupor Saturday”, when three games ended in an aggregate score of 148-6, upset the rusted on leaguies who switched channels, or watched a movie on their iPad while keeping an eye on the TV screen.
Alex Johnston, Tom Trbojevic and Josh Addo-Carr are all scoring more than a try a game but their records this year may come with an asterisk.Credit:Getty, NRL Photos
Discussion of Bob Beamon’s long jump record, set in 1968 at the Mexico City Olympics was always qualified by it being set at high altitude, just as others noted high-tech racing swimsuits lowered times in the pool at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
So, when fans of rugby league respond to “Turbo Tom’s” try-scoring feats with a “yes, but…” it’s demeaning a man who can only play under the rules as they exist at the time.
The most frequent solution raised to combat blowouts has been to allow the non-scoring team to receive the ball from the kick off.
It has been tried before in rugby league in Australia, with no significant change to scores (nor does it make the NFL or NCAA College Football in the USA a closer game).
In 1997, the News Limited backed Super League used the scorer kick off rule and the average margin in matches was 14.37 points, only slightly higher than the margin in the rival ARL competition of 13.44.
The average score of the winning team in Super League was 28.29 and 25.63 in the ARL. The average score of the losing team was 13.91 in Super League and 12.19 in the ARL.
Interestingly, the ARL grand final, when Newcastle scored a last second try to defeat Manly on the same weekend the Broncos comprehensively defeated the Sharks in Super League, probably accelerated peace talks more than the morning meetings on the Bondi circuit of the ARL’s Geoff Carr and News’ executive, the late Ian Frykberg (The large Frykberg said of their chats, “I walked. He ran”).
Carr, now retired, recalls speaking to ex players after that thrilling ARL decider, with one saying, “I was standing on my couch at the end cheering”.
“I find myself occasionally standing on the couch at the end of a thrilling game but recently I’ve used it to sleep during games,” Carr, a St George grand final winger, added.
“When the Storm scored a cricket score against the Roosters, I flicked over to a documentary on Sir Francis Drake. He plundered the Spanish ships in the Caribbean and knew the armada would be waiting for him on return to England. So he changed the rules on sea faring and circumnavigated the world. He gifted the Queen much of his loot, just as we can say the rule changes have gifted the ‘Kings of the Try Scorers’.”
Supporters of the scorer kick off rule will say that the 1997 Super League did not have a six-again rule. However, a ruck rule change meant Wayne Bennett’s Broncos travelled the length of the field in a set. Bennett has led the campaign against wrestling, the standard justification for introducing six again. Yet an NRL commissioned study found the incidence of wrestling is exaggerated; minimal across the NRL and confined to certain players, rather than clubs. Furthermore, play-the-ball times have risen fractionally in 2021.
Defenders of six again argue the fault lies with NRL clubs and their roster management. But recruitment is based on existing rules. If rules are changed overnight, as has been the case these past two years, clubs are stuck with players no longer suitable.
Maybe the six again for ten metre infringements can be abandoned. After all, 28 per cent of them come from players too tired to retire to the line, rather than seeking an advantage.
Instead of asterisks accompanying records, an alternative solution came in a text from a league tragic: “New format next year under the PVL rules – a final five decided in April.”
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