By STEVE MASCORD
THE day after he wrote an entire newspaper column about the subject, Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart admitted: “the obstruction rule will be probably be fixed before us”.
To be fair, Stuart was sporting a wry smile when he made the statement. But his side had just been lapped 50-0 by Sydney Roosters and, judging by comments from NRL referees coach Daniel Anderson, the rule interpretation everyone is talking about will be addressed after the representative weekend on April 19-21.
Chances are, the Eels will still be struggling then.
“I took the job on and I knew it was probably going to be a mountain of a job,” said Stuart, as part of his chat with radio station Triple M late on Monday.
“It’s going to be. It’s going take a number of seasons to get this right. I feel sorry for our supporters. We can all think we should be doing this and should be doing that and winning.
“But there’s evidence there tonight that we haven’t got a roster that’s up to a lot of the rosters. It’s going to be a tough year and I said that at the start of the year.”
Over the first month of the NRL season, there has also been evidence that some squads are simply much stronger than others. The overall salary cap increase from $4.4 million to $5.85 million (including a hike in the marquee player allowance) has allowed powerful clubs to hold onto big names and forced struggling teams to play “overs” for mid-range players.
St George Illawarra (25-12 over Cronulla on Saturday) and the Warriors (20-18 over North Queensland on Monday) secured their first wins in round four – which means we still have far fewer stragglers than most other professional sporting competitions worldwide.
“There’s a couple of standout sides and the rest are trying to chase them and catch them and stick with them,” says Gold Coast coach John Cartwright.
And there is little to suggest perceived inequalities had any detrimental effect on attendances, given the bumper Easter weekend with crowds of 51,686, 40,071 and 20130 after a somewhat sluggish opening month.
The resurgence in live interest is perfectly timed in that the Bulldogs take on Manly and Gold Coast hosts Brisbane this Friday – two fixtures bound to attract bumper crowds.
“It’s a genuine local derby and I think there is a dislike there between Brisbane and Gold Coast people,” says Cartwright.
Co-captain Greg Bird added: “I come from Cronulla and there was a big brother-little brother thing with St George. I think it’s the same thing.”
While success and entertainment are seen as the most important commodities being chased by spectators, Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson has identified a third: security.
Robinson, who followed Cronulla as a kid, believes fans want to be able to trust their team not to concede a try while they’re at the bar or toilet – and it’s something his men were able to give 18,014 raucous Rooster boosters on Monday.
“Fans want to see some exciting attack but they also want to be proud of their team and they want to see them defend well and feel safe with the way they defend and the pressure they put on teams,” Robinson says.
By STEVE MASCORD