A Rule Change Is As Good As A Holiday

untitledBy STEVE MASCORD

CHRISTMAS in summer really isn’t that weird.

It’s a common refrain I hear in the northern hemisphere, that to get sunburnt on Christmas Day, to be outside in shorts and thongs (either meaning of ‘thongs’ will suffice) is almost Grinch-like.

But the pool is every bit as convivial as the fireplace. Prawns, in all honesty, taste better than mince pies. And lager still tastes …like lager.

And as for Boxing Day, where would you rather be? The MCG for the cricket Test, or Mount Pleasant for Batley v Dewsbury? Actually, I’d rather be at Mount Pleasant but I’m weird like that. At least you could watch the Boxing Day Test on television if you couldn’t get there.

With no actual rugby league being played Down Under right now, there is a smug satisfaction over what is in store from March 7. Big TV deal, Sonny Bill Williams is back, you’ll be able to watch games on your ipad, for the first six weeks there’ll only be three days where there is NOT an NRL game being played.

Between Christmas and New Years, a story ran about how rugby league players would soon be the highest paid in Australian sport.

And it’s a World Cup Year …. ? Well, they ain’t talking about that so much in these parts…

Just before everyone donned the board shorts for Christmas Day, the NRL finalised some rule changes. Unlike the RFL, they didn’t leave it until Christmas Eve….

The decision to outlaw the shoulder charge was an executive call, and no doubt the concerns – expressed publically – of doctors (and therefore lawyers) played a part.

But when it came to how the ban would be worded, the ARL Commission called in the experts – like Wayne Bennett – and it was kind of …un-banned.

As long as the arm of the defending player is not tucked into the body, it’s business as usual. Players will not be cited for shoulder charges the referees miss – the video review committee will not look at them unless there is contact with the head.

Forty-20 understands referees have been told the changes to the rules regarding the shoulder charge will be, in all practicality, negligible.

The benefit of the doubt rule, which doesn’t exist anywhere else in the rugby league world and the flaws of which were exposed when Manly eliminated North Queensland from the finals last year, has been ditched by new referees’ boss Daniel Anderson.

For those of you who don’t watch a lot of NRL, the “benefit of the doubt” has gone to the attacking team where a try sent upstairs to the video official has been too tough to call.

In the majority of cases under the old rule, the referee would say “I have an opinion” when he sent the decision on a try upstairs.  As a keen listener to Sportsears (Sean Hampstead once said during a game “don’t worry, the only person listening is Steve Mascord”), I can tell you the intonation of the referees often implied very strongly that he knew better than the eye in the sky what had happened.

Sometimes, the man on the field would “coach” the video referee over what replays to watch, which always seemed arse-about to me.

Now, one of the two men in the middle (we’re sticking with that one, thanks) will give his opinion on whether a try has been scored first, then ask for the fellow in the grandstand to double-check if he deems this necessary.

The new system seems sensible. But if a whistler is otherwise having a blinder but keeps getting over-ruled by the man upstairs, will it affect his appointment for the following week? Will it affect his confidence?

Anderson knows the answer to the first question. No-one knows the second solution, until it happens.

There were three major policy changes announced by the ARLC a week before Christmas. The third is a matter dear to the hearts of most Forty-20 readers – representative eligibility.

The problem: players moving to NSW or Queensland to be professional footballers were being deemed eligible for that state – defeating the “of Origin” part of the competition’s name.

From a domestic point, of view, that meant Greg Inglis being raised in northern NSW but playing his whole career for Queensland.

Of more interest to most of our readers is James Tamou representing NZ Maori and then NSW and Australia – and Aquila Uate switching from Fiji to Australia.

The rule they’ve come up with is beautiful in its simplicity– though not without its own questions. Players must have lived in NSW or Queensland before the age of 13 to be eligible for that state.

They must also be eligible for Australia, which is not what we hoped for  – but it’s a step in the right direction.  Origin had started to do to other countries what NSW did to Queensland in in the 1970s – attract all the best players using money, then turn them against their place of birth.

A couple of days later, the ARLC announced a television deal with IMG Media that it said would “guarantee access to key markets including the UK, USA, Asia and the Pacific”.

But what it has done is sell the international television rights to IMG, who on-sell for the likes of Wimbledon, the Australian Open, the ATP Masters Series, International Rugby Board (IRB), MotoGP, the National Football League (NFL) and the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB).

IMG hasn’t announced any new stations for the NRL yet but one aspect which should excite fans outside Australia is “”free digital NRL Channel for international fans featuring match vision and a mobile NRL app”.

If there is no NRL on your local station, the ARLC statement said, games should be available on YouTube or Ustream. Let us know when round one comes around how that plays out…

On the surface, it sounds pretty damn positive for rugby league fans everywhere. Your local players don’t get stolen by Australia, and now you get to watch them play every one of their NRL matches.

For those of you in the northern hemisphere, it should give you an idea of what Christmas in summer feels like.

Filed for: FORTY-20 MAGAZINE

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