Six (Again) Ways to Improve the NRL in 2022

Another season is over, and it’s been a doozy, with controversy over the new rules, a version of ‘V’landysball’ that’s become faster than Cannibal Corpse’s back catalogue (both the Chris Barnes and George Fisher eras), the high tackle crackdown, and a (mostly) brilliant finals series ending in a classic grand final and deserved premiership for Penrith. 

Now we look to 2022, and discuss what changes can be made to improve the game. Will any of these come true? 

Adjust the Six Again Rule

Depending on who you ask, the controversial Six Again rule is either an entertaining addition or is turning the game into boring, one-sided touch footy.

Without digging into the stats, it’s clear that the gap between the good and bad teams is bigger than ever, with some sides unable to keep up with the game’s at-times ridiculous pace. It wasn’t until the whistle was put away in the finals that we got some close, low-scoring contest again.

Smart teams have learnt to exploit the Six Again rule by conceding restarts early in the tackle count when it’s not as punishing. The almost cynical exploitation has turned the rule into a bit of a joke.

There is one solution: when the defence concedes a Six Again in the first three tackles, then the game stops for an actual penalty, with the attacking team kicking for touch. If a Six Again is conceded from tackles four to six, then it’s the usual Six Again restart, when it has more impact.

This would hopefully stop the cynical early penalties, as the attacking team can gain free territory off the penalty kick, which will be vital if they’re pinned on their goal-line and struggling to get out.

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Bring Back the Scrums

While we’ve all complained for years about scrums being a ‘no contest’, we’ve also noticed the difference when scrums were reduced this season.

Though rugby league scrums aren’t as intricate (or messy) as rugby union, they help teams set up their set/trick plays: a well-worked try from a scrum is a thing of beauty and gets everyone excited.

It’s not too late to bring the scrums back for all stoppages. Who cares if the halfback automatically feeds it into his second rower and gets it out just as quickly? It gives everyone a bit of a rest and we can see some glorious ‘set piece’ footy again.

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More Country Footy

One of the few upsides of the ‘lock, stock, and barrel’ move to Queensland was more footy in country areas: Mackay, Redcliffe (a nice audition for Redcliffe’s entry into the NRL), and the Sunshine Coast (which was Melbourne’s second home due to COVID-19). There were also games in country NSW before the move north.

While a ‘Country Round’ will probably never happen due to the commercial requirements from Fox League and Nine, could each team take one home game to the country, ideally played on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon? No doubt the games will sell out quickly, and the designated home team could spend the week running clinics and promotional events.

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More Common Sense Head Contact Rulings

While tackling concussion and head injuries are vital, the way the NRL policed ‘the crackdown’ was almost farcical, with 14 players sin binned, three sent off, and 24 incidents carried over to the judiciary in Magic Round alone.

Fortunately, more common sense was applied as the season went on, though there were still a few confusing decisions. A prime example was Kobe Hetherington’s send off in Brisbane’s loss to Canberra: he was marched despite Canberra’s Corey Harawira-Naerea falling into him after CHN was ankle tapped. Even the most green eyed Raiders fan was amazed by that decision. Luckily, common sense prevailed and Hetherington only copped a fine.

While genuine high shots should undoubtedly be a send off, more consistent common sense needs to be applied, factoring in the tackled player’s position upon contact (like the CHN example), the intent of the tackle, or any other extenuating circumstances. If it’s necessary to pause the game so The Bunker can review it properly (like the TMO does in Super Rugby), then so be it.

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More Afternoon Footy in Brisbane

While Channel Nine loves their Thursday and Friday night footy at Lang Park/Suncorp Stadium, there’s a lot to be said for more afternoon footy there. Lang Park is one of the greatest stadiums in the country and it looks glorious on a warm autumn, winter, or early spring afternoon. 

The Broncos’ blockbusters against Melbourne, the Sydney Roosters, and the derbies against the Cowboys and Titans (and the Dolphins soon enough) should be on Thursday/Friday nights, but the rest of the Broncos’ home games should be in the afternoon. The fans will love it (the walk down Caxton St from Roma Street Station is a lot more pleasant during the day), the players will enjoy the sunshine, and the quality of footy should be better.

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Limit the Trainers’ Influence 

While trainers play an important role in delivering the coach’s message to players (look how busy Robbie Farah was in Wild Wests: Tales From Tiger Town), their constant involvement is a problem.

Allan Langer is on the field so much for the Broncos he may as well put the number seven jersey back on, and Raiders fans still remember when the Roosters trainer got involved (albeit accidentally) during THAT grand final and arguably cost Canberra a try-scoring chance. Penrith trainer Pete Green was suspended after he stopped play to attend to Mitch Kenny in the Panthers’ epic semi-final win over Parramatta.

So, how do we fix this?

Simple: trainers are only allowed on the field during designated stoppages, like when a penalty goal or conversion attempt is being taken. Let the trainer rally the troops/pass on messages behind the goal-line as the kick is being taken. If a player’s seriously injured (not just a ‘cramp’ for gamesmanship’s sake), play should stop and the trainer can come on, attend to the player, and take him off if needed.

If a trainer is on the field during live play (either accidentally or on purpose), then it’s an automatic penalty to the opposition. Yes, it sounds harsh, but it should stop the trainers coming on when they shouldn’t be there.

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