A month in and the NRL season is hotting up.
Round fourpresents the Dragons a chance to put three, maybe fourlengths on a couple of teams. And, if results go just so, leaveup to a third of the competition ina game of catch-up at the back of the field, already. So abig week for thoseboys.
Alternatively, the Knights belt the Dragons, the Roosters pluck the Warriorsandother results play out, and there could be as many as eightteams jointly leading the comp on sixpoints. Racing pundits might say: “Bunching at the first turn”.
In the nation’s capital, the Raiders can’t take a trick andRicky’s patience is wearing thin. Losing three straight by a combined fivepoints is hard to take and I doubt “Sticky”will continue to take it lying down. Look out Manly, or the officials in charge, if Canberradon’t get the chocolates.
Not to forget ourKnights. Brimming with confidence, our boys took on the conditions and a red-hot Roosters team determined to make clear their end-of-season intentions. Some of the set-piece plays were rugby league at its best, particularly the Cooper Cronk switch play, deep into the line, and the sublime chip kick and link pass for the try on half-time.
On the positive side, while the Roosters’ engine room overshadowed our boys, it was only on points. Newcastle’sforwards have a long way to go but held their own. In theirdefence, the score should have been closer.
Nothing else for the crestfallen lads but to grab a warm shower and ice packs and prepare for a new battle this Sunday.
Mary McGregor’s resurgent team are big, mobile, clever and able to put quality teams on the rack.
With a well-balanced mix of punch, poise and persistence, they are warming as premiership favourites. Against that, I expect the Knights to be wary of the forces arrayed against them and hopefully they can embrace the Sunday-arvo occasion and bring their A-game –because they’re gonna need it.
LEADING LIGHTS: It is no fluke St George Illawarra are unbeaten, on top of the points table. They represent a massive challenge for the Knights on Sunday. Picture: AAP
In the big picture, achance, if nothing else, to fail nobly and do better than last week. Knights by seven.
* THEmost controversial result last weekend was the Broncos dodginga bullet against the Tigers, after whichthe match officials admitted the match-decidingpenalty was an error.
Not sure Tigers players or fans will find much satisfaction or comfort from that declaration, but it highlights a philosophically entrenched notion.
One that some might call, in the post-modern, forensically consumed game, a shortcoming –that the referee’scallcannot be questioned. The pros and cons of which are better dissected in person over a cold few.
But proof they are already being questioned is there to see in the eight- or nine-person referee team that oversees every NRLgame.
As I’ve touched on before, the early Victorian roots of the game allowed only one arbiter. Then, as you do, the local villages needed a voice on each sideline to negotiate disputes. Those nominees eventually became independent, and so it was until pay TV, the internetand transnational sport engaged consumers everywhere.
The broad appeal for today’s sport relies, now more than ever, on clear rules, consistent application and the veracity of results. Accuracy here has become the bedrock of credibility and “integrity”of every sporting conglomerate.
All of which confers enormous pressure on the guys making the calls, despite operating in an environment where it is expected that mistakes will be made.
These opposing trains of thought present a problem for the NRLknowing their roads won’t be paved with broadcaster bullion if decisions like last week’s are repeated too often.
Currently, we throw the aforementioned squad of decision-makers at the problem, tech them up and hope for the best. Which in most cases is good enough. But league, like AFL and union, are games where rules are not always black and white.
As such, every week, many are open to interpretation on the run. It’s these that largely create conjecture and post-game debate.
So, to revisit comments made by Todd Greenberg in October 2015, when, by the way, he trumpeted an expectation of zero mistakes in his new bunker, he mentioned that the NRL would look into the feasibility of introducing a “captains’ call”.
So let’s have a quick look. Easy enough to draw up rules where captains are limited to one challenge per half, but on what exactly, and, what not?
At first blush, the review option would need to be invoked almost immediately by the captain to avoid sideline intrusion. One expects it to apply to those things that are currently able to be ruled upon –knock-on, lost ball in the ruck, offside on kicks, or maybewhether a high tackle was actually worth a penalty, or a send-off.
Not unlike forward passes, due to line-of-sight limitations, 10-metre offside penalties may be problematic for review. Plenty of grist for the mill, as getting it right will take some thought.
But before anything happens, the referees need to get back to a benchmark standard that can only then be properly, confidently and consistently ruled against. In this regard, the referees have been busy schooling the players in the proper rules of the game of late.
A little frustrating, granted, but maybe a a little pain for a lot of gain in the long run.
I’d only caution on too much zealotry in getting back to that future. A mindset that perhaps had something to do with Ashley Klein’sbrain snap last week.
Whatever it was, a penalty every threesets so far this season on average is bordering on the fanatical and the boys with the whistle need to temper slightly, while holding the course.
So where was I? Oh yes, captains’ call.
A few hairs on it and a fundamental shift philosophically, but today’s captains are pros and while they are playing it, it’s their game and they have a lot invested in seeing games conclude as fairly as possible.
After all, referees are not always right. Heck, they might even welcome another set of eyes in the heat of the moment.