The Roosters were at the second coaches meeting with referees’ boss Daniel Anderson, held last week before Thursday night’s much-anticipated season-opener between the foundation clubs, while the Rabbitohs were not.
Perhaps Souths coach Michael Maguire reasons that whatever interpretations referees have this first round, those same interpretations will be abandoned in a month.
Nor was there any representation from Newcastle, Canterbury and Manly at the meeting, despite Bulldogs coach Des Hasler and the Sea Eagles’ Geoff Toovey being vocal at the first of the coaches meetings with Anderson in January. Newcastle’s Wayne Bennett was the only coach not to attend the first meeting.
Bennett is opponent of wrestling in the ruck, so when Anderson outlined his plans for this year, focusing on defenders peeling off the tackled players, some began texting others, speculating that the ”skinny coach” was behind it. Anderson made it clear referees would demand defenders move away from the ball carrier in two distinct movements.
If there are three in the tackle and one rolls away first, it is incumbent on the remaining two to move simultaneously. If four make a tackle, they must release in pairs. That is, three or four defenders cannot peel away one after the other. Anderson’s aim is faster rucks and in the pre-season players reported that referees were policing it, with quicker ”move” calls and consequently speedier play-the-balls.
But this has happened in previous pre-seasons and, after a month, an equilibrium has been established between attack and defence. Some coaches, such as Melbourne’s Craig Bellamy, Parramatta’s Ricky Stuart and Hasler, are advocates of defence being rewarded equally. They argue, as Jack Gibson did 50 years ago when he introduced tractor tyres to training, that defence is half the game. They maintain players should be rewarded for tackling a giant ball-carrier.
Given the body shape and strength of some of today’s players, they are hard to bring down.
If a ball carrier stands in a tackle with three defenders holding him and the referee calls held before they ground him, it is mandatory for them to release him and move onside. It is near impossible to occupy the marker position or stand in defence if he plays the ball quickly.
Attacking teams will exploit this, particularly when carrying the ball off their own line, as dummy halves run at the offside defenders to win penalties. Or they will dart unchallenged past the retreating defenders.
Yet Anderson has said a ”held” or ”tackle” call will be made by a referee any time a defending player looks to turn or pull the attacking player around while lifting his leg to change his body position. Do we want a return to the touch-football era of Super League and repeated dummy-half runs?
Bennett isn’t the only coach who wants faster rucks. Some of the coaches at last week’s meeting were surprised when St George Illawarra assistant coach Steve Folkes, deputising for Bennett’s former assistant Steve Price, claimed to have clocked some play-the-balls in the pre-season lasting between eight and 10 seconds. Even Dallas Donnelly didn’t take that long to play the ball!
The most penalised action in the trials was ”hand on the ball”. Players will always find a way and, whether it came from instruction or instinct, the defender’s ruse of locking his hand on the ball will nullify a quick play-the-ball.
A ball carrier, allowed to quickly rise to his feet at the ruck, is slowed down if forced to secure the ball against a defender seeking to make him juggle it.
Anderson insists players rising to their feet are to be released immediately and at no stage is a defender’s hand permitted on the ball. This is a good rule.
But referees need to be sensible about the earlier part of the ruck, not calling held when they see a third man about to join a tackle, or accepting that the position of some of the defenders on the ground renders it impossible for two to release simultaneously.
Round one will see referees leaning to attack before it settles by round four, offering early chances for quick, young forwards.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.