Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The biggest issue in the game

It's a familiar programme of events. New fixtures follow the international autumn, quickly to be followed by a raft of new rules. At some point, we may even find out what the national teams might be doing in 11 months time or whether there's a title sponsor the RFL's premier competition, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Every year, there are tweaks to the rules. Sometimes, there are new ones altogether or the withdrawal of others. That's fine. The game has constantly been nipping and tucking throughout it's history. Big things like the reduction in numbers on the field and limited tackle rules forged the identity of the game - minor things like the one-on-one ball steal and not allowing players to play the ball to themselves less so. We could pick holes in the current code. For instance, it is our contention that there are too many grey areas - like the one-on-one ball steal, obstruction, what constitutes a dominant tackle and offside rules - which make the interpretation of a given referee on a given day too much influence over the outcome. But that's by the by compared to the major issue which reared it's head in the Four Nations and will do again when the World Club Challenge comes around and that is the issue of consistency.

Who is in charge of the rules? In football, the responsibility lies with IFAB, the international game boars, the MCC in cricket, the IRB in the fifteen-a-side game. It is clear. In terms of international authority, we have the RLIF, possibly the most toothless and useless organisation in world sport. This is comprised of the heads of the domestic game around the world, but who leads it is unimportant seeing as it does nothing. The RFL make changes to the rules their competitions are played to. So do the NRL. (So do BARLA and the FFRXIII, but they do tend to reflect the RFL position as their member clubs also play in RFL competitions). There is never an attempt to align the two and this leads to a discord when clubs and nations come together under what are always termed 'international rules', but in reality are an ever-changing, flexible compromise between the two codes dependent on the whim of the man in the middle. This year, the NRL are wanting to scrap the differential penalty (sacrilege) having already done away with corner flags and added a second ref. The RFL are retaining corner flags, but they won't be deemed to form part of the perimeter of the field, which kind of makes them redundant anyway. And you'll be able to convert a try with a drop-kick, which we thought you could do if you wanted to anyway. The upshot is there'll be more diversion between the way the game is policed depending which hemisphere you play in.

Somebody, or indeed some body, has to have overall control of the laws of the game. Only then can we make progress on developing the rules to make the job of a referee easier and, consequently, take focus off them and onto the supreme athletes who play the game and whose endeavours take the heat off the administrators time and time again.

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