Oh The Times, They Are A Changin’


The NRL has announced its intention to drop interchange numbers to 8 in 2016 in an effort to rebalance the game in favour of smaller players. The move is designed to have a two pronged effect: reduce the amount of injuries that stem from collisions between big players and opponents, and to give the smaller players more power towards the ends of play.

The move does have some critics; those who are worried that the changes may adversely affect the super forwards such as Canterbury’s Sam Kasiano or the Raider’s Shannon Boyd. The idea is that these particular sized players benefit from short, intensive stints on the field, and that extended periods may see their impact diminish. Which is kind of the point.

Overall one feels that the move has more advantages than disadvantages, but it does mean that some of the seriously big units will need to shed a few kilos and acclimatise to playing 20 minute stints.

The new interchange rule will mean Boyd will need to continue to slim down.
The new interchange rule will mean Boyd will need to continue to slim down.

If there’s one particular amendment to this new rule that I’d like to see it would be the extension of the bench to five players, with the fifth player there as a sub who can only be activated if another player is forced to retire through injury.

The change should in theory give small players more incentive to start poking holes into tired defensive lines, particularly around the ruck and on the inside of the fringes, where centres may be forced to start covering for tired big men.

For this to work, however, the NRL, in particular the referees, are going to have to address some of the other problems that have sprung up while their backs were turned.


One of the more prolific tackle time wasting moves in recent times is the nefarious leg pull, a move which is one of the more recent mutations of wrestling in tackles. As a move designed to slow the ball carrier from rising it’s somewhat ineffectual, and like any borderline tactic will incur a penalty if performed blatantly.

As a psychological weapon it is much more effective, especially when used on players with chronic foot/leg injuries. The Leg Pull is usually performed by the third man – as he peels away from the ball carriers legs he takes hold of a shin or ankle and bends it up towards the back of the thigh.

The referees will need to find a way to rule on this consistently.
The referees will need to find a way to rule on this consistently.

In the modern game where the definition of a successful tackle is the ball carrier on his back the Leg Pull is a grubby move employed by the teams who like to engage in gutter niggle. It is also, as stated in the rule book, an illegal move.

I don’t know how much clearer it can be. Look, third down, C.

Yet without fail in every game of every round there is at least one leg pull. They are not hard to miss. In fact they are bleedingly obvious. IT’S THE PLAYER PULLING ON THE BALL CARRIERS LEG. PENALISE HIM.


Touch judges pretty much have two jobs: indicate if the ball or a player holding the ball has gone out, and help the main referees adjudicate on any forward passes/knock-ons. Maybe someone should tell the current batch of touchies about this, because apparently they don’t know.

I watched in a wry, exhausted bemusement on Sunday afternoon as the Panthers scored off a knock-on and then later in the game threw two consecutive forward passes before the main ref decided that he’d seen enough NFL action for one set and blew his whistle.

I realise that the speed of the game has reached a point where nearly every pass is borderline flat but you get the feeling that some players/teams are now just taking the piss.


Here is my proposed remedy: On the far sideline have a hi-definition camera mounted on hydraulic rails that covers the entire length of the sideline. The camera will need to be mounted at a 90 degree angle so it faces the opposing sideline. The camera tracks the ball, and if the ball goes forward it either alerts the ref or the video ref. Obviously someone will need to figure out the ball tracking tech, as soon as you do contact me and we’ll patent it.


The timeline of an individual tackle should be thus: Ball carrier meets defensive line, defence brings ball carrier down, ref calls held, ball carrier stands up WHERE THEY WERE TACKLED and plays the ball. Not scrambles to get up, trips, and takes two steps forward. Not stands up, tries to shove marker out of the way and somehow magically accidentally ends up being a metre further from where they went down, not struggles in the tackle and somehow manages to wriggle forward 50 centimetres before standing up.

The refs really need to get tough on this again. It was an issue one or two years ago but like all rule crackdowns it was quickly abandoned in favour of doing things as usual.


The reason that so many NRL players infringe in so many ways is that no one ever told them they couldn’t. Specifically the refs never told them they couldn’t. Rather than penalising players straight up refs spend half their time coaching them on how to play. “Stay out of it”, “You’re too close” etc. They then call captains out and tell them that they’re getting a warning for the previous warning about the prior infringement.

Here’s an idea: If a player is doing something contradictory to the rules PENALISE THEM! If they do it again, penalise them. If they still don’t learn by the third go send them off for five minutes. You’ll be amazed how many players stop trying to bend or break the rules.


There seems to be some disparity between lifting tackles and their subsequent consequences at the judiciary, with innocuous tackles picking up several weeks whilst far worse ones get minor punishment. There is also clearly an element of knee-jerk reaction.

Grading of lifting tackles is inconsistent.

While it is sad and frustrating that players can be injured in a lifting tackle it is somewhat unfair to apply a punishment in light of the injury. The injury is not being punished, but rather the action or choice made by the defender. The offender already has to live with the guilt of ruining a peers season or career, a situation not improved by doling out retribution.

How are these tackles even graded and policed? For my liking I’d like to see the grade rise by every 10 degrees past horizontal – lift a player’s legs 30 degrees and cop a grade 3 charge. Driving force and number of defenders should also be a determining factor.

The refs need to personally intervene a heck of a lot quicker. I realise that many of these things happen very quickly but there have been some dreadful tackles were a player has been worked above the horizontal over a period of seconds, which in tackle time is an age. Refs need to actually blow their whistles the moment a player reaches the horizontal, not when they’ve passed it.

I realise my deranged rant has now seriously gotten off course but one can’t help feel that the NRL kinda still has unfinished business that it needs to clean up before tackling the subject of interchanges. Rugby league can be a truly electrifying sport when played right, but it seems a bit dumb that the NRL and the refs can’t stamp their authority on these lingering issues.

While no sport truly attains perfection some come close through good management and a clear understanding of what is expected from all parties.

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