The number of penalties in the NRL have ballooned by 50 per cent.Penalties have ballooned 50 per cent in 2018 as the NRL vows to stay the course with its crackdown on infringements.
Numbers from Fox Sports Stats after the first three games of round four, show the whistleblowers had pinged sides an average of 18.52 times per game.
That was well above the 12.77 blown in the first four rounds last year.
Over the past 20 years, the most number of penalties blown from rounds one to four was 13.93 per game – recorded in 1994.
The game looks set for a record number of penalties this year after referees blew 500 in the first 27 games.
As well, the 33 penalties blown by Matt Cecchin and Alan Shortall in Saturday’s Cronulla-Melbourne clash was the most ever in an NRL game.
Reactions to the exploding penalty counts have been mixed – respected commentators like Andrew Johns and Phil Gould have been scathing.
On the flip side coaches Wayne Bennett, Shane Flanagan and Craig Bellamy have been united in insisting sides must adapt to new interpretations and take responsibility for the penalties they give away.
Sharks prop Andrew Fifita warned that the game risked becoming like rugby union and more sides would take the two points on offer when they receive penalties close to the opposition line.
However he stressed his support for the referees and said they had been unfairly maligned.
“I believe the refs are copping it a bit,” Fifita told AAP.
“Our game is kind of turning into a rugby match where we you get that penalty and everyone is going for the two. I believe it’s like a penalty-a-thon at the moment.
“I’m quite happy because I’m one of those bigger blokes that’s under fatigue so I don’t complain.
“It’s just the way the game’s going.”
NRL head of football Brian Canavan said the governing body would not back down on its crackdown.
He pointed out that it was the game’s competition committee, which includes coaches Ivan Cleary and Paul Green as well as n Kangaroos mentor Mal Meninga, which had decided to target certain areas, in particular the play-the-ball and cheap penalties while teams defend their line.
He also pointed out referees had visited most sides every week and overseen their game simulation sessions to help them get their heads around the changes in interpretations.
“From last year’s feedback, from the fans primarily, there were some very frustrating areas of the game,” Canavan told AAP.
“Those areas predominantly revolve around the play-the-ball, the defensive line particularly in relation to the try line.
“We addressed that at the competition committee meeting and they then decided there has to be an enforcement of the existing rules.
“They’re not new rules, they’re existing rules. While there is some pain, the game will look better in the near future.”