THERE are signs from all sorts of places that rugby league is about to enter a period of intense self-examination and on-field change.
By the time many of you will have read this, two Boxing Day games in England will have trialled three experimental alterations to the laws of the game.
At the Leeds-Wakefield and Batley-Dewsbury friendlies, the attacking team was permitted to pack five players into the scrum, giving it one extra attacking player.
Charge-downs did not result in a restarted tackle count –which meant that if you successfully charged down a kick on the final tackle, you get the ball whether you come up with it or not.
And when an attacking team kicks the ball dead, the defending side got the ball on the 40m line, rather than the 22 – a new disincentive to the negative ploy of booting it out to take the steam out of a dangerous opposition.
In next year’s All Stars game at Suncorp Stadium, there is also expected to be a raft of experimental rules – although they haven’t been finalised yet.
And on Christmas Day, the Northern Territory News carried a story about rugby union and rugby league players training together, with a view to a hybrid game being played in Darwin.
People in areas where rugby league is not a dominant sport are constantly exasperated about this tinkering with the rules. No sooner have they explained to new converts what the game is, than it changes.
However, league has always changed rules to attract more spectators and maximise profits. Remember, in 1895 the Northern Union looked exactly like rugby union.
Our lack of stuffy hierarchy and our modest geographical footprint allowed us to bring in new things without having to get approval from too many people. There has always been a healthy lack of reverence for sanctity of the rule book in rugby league.
If Rugby union is an old world country, rugby league is an adventurous, spirited new world nation.
But things are starting to get a little out of hand. Our only two fulltime professional competitions are growing apart at a rate of knots because of “local” rules and rule interpretations. There are increasing pressures that even internationals are not played under international rules!
It’s one thing to have a sport that itself represents a rebellion against the old order. It’s another to have the rebels fighting amongst themselves.
We need to acknowledge that the NRL and Super League are our shopfronts – and if you fiddle with the shopfront too much, confused customers may not come in.
By all means, retain our sense of innovation. But let’s not introduce major changes without the permission of an international governing body and due consideration for how it affects all levels of the game.
That means using some of next year’s World Cup funds to actually give the RLIF an address and a staff member or two.
Then set out protocols for rule changes – and stick to them.
COMMENTS time and I’ll give myself a New Years uppercut for using Greg Inglis as an example of whether you can deliberately have your child born in NSW or Queensland in order to qualify him for that state.