The Spider and the Fly


The chaotic aberration that is Peter V’Landys’ reign continued recently when the NRL announced yet another rule change for the upcoming season.

That makes it one each year of the pandemic, which is at least consistent. This time is was ostensibly to solve a situation they created when they introduced the ‘set restart’ penalty. Now teams will be given a penalty rather than a set restart when teams encroach the ten, or meddle in the ruck inside their own 40. It’s a spider swallowed in search of a fly. As the legend known as @thesloanefather said on twitter, “this rule change goes exactly 40% far as needed.”

I didn’t lie!

For the game it’s a mess. Different types of penalties for different spots of the field just make the job of the referee even harder. Given V’Landys et al took away the second referee because something about using the force flow, it just makes their jobs harder, and will lead to more whining about issues of interpretation. From coaches. From commentators. From the community. Huzzah. It’s part of a general approach to the game from the current administration which it seems is more based on *vibes*, winning the dead news pages of February, and very little logic or integrity.

It’s done with less than 50 days until the start of the new season. Rumours of this change have been around a while, which means the league was potentially thinking about this and could have made this change earlier to allow teams to adjust their training and rosters accordingly. Instead they chose to wait until the more media friendly (or empty) period of February to launch the changes. Now teams are forced to scramble again, which to me undermines the integrity of a competition V’Landys and Abdo are employed to uphold. It’s the administrative equivalent of throwing poo at someone. If you at least tell them what’s coming they can put gloves on. It’s likely not even going to be the last time clubs will be asked to adjust on the fly this season (they’re putting microchips in the balls! Someone stop Bill Gates!). Alas the Sydney media will praise it because even if they weren’t the lap dogs of V’Landys, they’re so far from having a single critical thinking brain cell that scientists may study their brains for years to come. Oh look it’s already started.

Will it solve the problem? Not as much as getting rid of the initial dumb rule would. Will it create a more confusing game, and potentially open up new ways for the rules to be exploited? You betcha! I can imagine right now Craig Bellamy and Trent Robinson have worked out how this is going to work and will cynically exploit the mess. As they should. It’s their job to win games. It could be as simple as using it to rebalance when you’re getting dominated in field position. Sets starting at 30 could become a mess, instead of the goal line, as teams dare the refs to work out whether an infringement is a set restart or a penalty. I worked that out and I’ve locked myself out of my house at least twice this year alone. God knows what people with actual brains will do.

A cynic might suggest that V’Landys is aware of the mess he’s made and is too proud to back down and admit he’s wrong. You’ll be shocked to hear a boomer is unable to concede fault (sorry boomers, unfair on my behalf). Maybe this time next year the line gets shifted to halfway, then up to the attacking 20, before we finally phase out the mess he’s made. Maybe he leaves rugby league next year and everyone who supports his mismanagement realises that the duds he’s been wearing were always a bit threadbare.

Is there a better way to work out what rules should be in place? Of course. Competition committees exist for a reason. There’s some merit to trialling rules before they just thrust them willy-nilly on a multimillion dollar enterprise. The NSW and QLD cups might be frustrated at being treated like a laboratory for these mad scientists, but at least there’d be some evidence to go off, rather than just the feelpinions of the parasites that hang off the game. It’s not like the NRL are incapable of trials. They decided to have “secret” trials of the forward pass tech, but when it comes to the rules of the game they have just decided to wing it. Let that sink in.

But then will the impact be the same now the rule has changed? To mangle @thesloanefather’s joke, will it be 40 per cent less bad? Will it mean that the middle won’t fatigue in the same way? How will the fact that teams would have loaded up on conditioning in the off-season play a role? Given it was such a determinant in wins and losses last season, it’s almost certain that fatigue won’t be the issue it was in the 2020-2021 period. I guess it’s farewell to little man will go away, I’ll inform Damian Cook he’s done. Could the swing towards getting mobile go too far for teams mid-reform? Might they be better suited to staying big as the heat comes out of the game (so to speak)? Or was the 2021 fitness gap so wide that one coronavirus-ruined off-season is not going to bridge it?

Factors like roster flexibility are great, but these rely on decisions made prior to the rule being changed again. Teams probably have kept options to go big and small on the roster because they recognise the marginal propensity for change from up high and rising. It seems they are more hell bent at winning the media cycle than curating the long term health of the game, let alone the physical well-being of the players who are continuously pushing their bodies to change and adapt to the latest thing to catch the eye of Sauron Peter V’Landys.

Rule changes while teams are trying to work out how they’ll adjust if half their roster disappears with ‘rona feels silly. Making the game more complex because you’re too proud to admit you were grotesquely wrong seems short-sighted. But alas, this is rugby league for now, and depending on how you feel about history, for always.

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