With Super League making its eagerly anticipated comeback on August 2nd, after a near five-month break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, here’s why the rule changes made to the competition should be embraced by supporters with a faster game and player safety paramount.
What rules have changed?
In total, four rule changes have been confirmed by the RFL so far, however, two of these changes will have a significant impact on how the game is played for the remainder of the 2020 season.
Scrums have been abolished, in order to reduce the risk of players contracting COVID-19, and the six again rule, as used in the NRL, has also been introduced. Other rule changes include a play-the-ball restart when a team kicks out on the full, rather than a scrum, which also applies to mutual infringements such as the ball hitting the referee. There are also restrictions on the legal point of contact for a third defender in an upright tackle, which must now be above the knee.
For anyone unfamiliar with the six again rule, should a player make an infringement in the defensive ruck, rather than a penalty being awarded, the referee will signal ‘six again’ which includes holding down in the tackle, and hands on the ball. However, a penalty will still be awarded for a professional foul or repeated infringements if a team attempts to slow down the play.
RFL chairman Simon Johnson told Sky Sports News: “We are confirming some significant changes to the way the game will be played…which we believe are important and necessary to prioritise the welfare of players, and the success of the season.”
How will this impact the season?
First and foremost, we need to appreciate the work done to ensure this Super League season will be completed.
Whether you are for or against the rule changes, the changes have been made to ensure the season can be fulfilled in the safest way possible and provides some security to those people whose livelihoods depend on the sport as well as the clubs themselves. Thus, simply finishing the season will have a massive impact on the sport as it will allow clubs to continue to operate and earn revenue.
Personally, I’ve never been a fan of scrums. It’s one of the main reasons I much prefer league to union. As someone who enjoys quick, fast-paced sport, I hope the removal of scrums, for the remainder of the season, will speed up the game and maybe even highlight how unnecessary scrums are at times. Nowadays, scrums are used as a means of restarting the game, it’s rare a team will push at the scrum, which is why I don’t think the removal of scrums will be as noticeable as people think. Hopefully, the quicker pace and tempo in the game will mean this rule change will have a positive impact on the league.
The ‘six again’ rule should also help in improving the speed of the game, making it faster and more entertaining for viewers, as seen in the NRL. Again, I only see this change being positive for Super League and importantly, aligns us with the rules used in the NRL which I’m sure we’ve all enjoyed watching in Super League’s absence. Therefore, I think both of the significant rule changes will increase the speed of the game and make for better viewing for supporters.
However, given the lack of time Super League clubs will have to train before the season restart, it could take a few rounds before we start to see teams fully adapt to the new rules. It could also disadvantage teams who have a bigger pack, but is a big advantage to teams with a quick-thinking hooker.
Overall, I’m a big supporter of the rule changes, perhaps I’m biased because I’m generally just pleased to see Super League returning, but in theory we should see games being played at a faster pace with a quicker ruck which should be entertaining viewing for any rugby league fan. The changes should also benefit the more creative players, particularly at half-back and full-back given they are likely to have more room to operate in. Let’s enjoy the remainder of the 2020 season.
Which clubs does this advantage?
Without a game being played it’s difficult to predict which clubs might benefit from the rule changes and which clubs might be disadvantaged.
The ‘six again’ rule change could potentially have the biggest impact on the speed of the game as the ruck speed will be considerably quicker. Therefore, Castleford’s livewire hooker Paul McShane, Catalans’ marquee signing James Maloney, Huddersfield’s early season pacesetter Aidan Sezer, veteran St Helens hooker James Roby and current Man of Steel Jackson Hastings are all players who could shine when Super League returns.
However, with the likes of Blake Austin, Gareth Widdop and Daryl Clark amongst their ranks, the rule changes could benefit Steve Price’s Warrington side most of all. Despite making a mixed start to the season, the trio will have more freedom when they return to action in July and will have time to gel as they attempt to guide Wire to their first ever Super League title.
Which clubs does this disadvantage?
As the rule changes should speed up the pace of the game, the big guys could be set to suffer meaning teams with a bigger pack could be at a disadvantage.
Having lost big-hitting prop Luke Thompson to NRL side Canterbury Bulldogs last month, St Helens could be one of the sides at a disadvantage when the season resumes, although England’s record appearance maker James Graham isn’t a bad replacement. That said, Saints have one of the best packs in the competition and therefore might be a less effective side with the rule changes in place.
Another side who might struggle post-lockdown is Hull FC. The club are yet to appoint a permanent head coach following Lee Radford’s sacking in March but are another side with an impressive pack and could suffer as a result of the rule changes. They invested heavily in the likes of Manu Ma’u, Chris Satae and Ligi Sao during the off-season, but will now need to rely more on their backs upon the resumption of the season next month.