Change bench & we’ll fix big mess

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NRL - MARK GASNIER Fox League com­men­ta­tor

OUR game is a mess. For­get about the dis­pro­por­tion­ate pay deal that was agreed to off the field and where the games money will be spent, it is on the field which I am ex­tremely wor­ried about be­cause the spec­ta­cle is not as good as it could be.

And the sim­plest way to help fix it is by re­duc­ing the in­ter­change, which was dis­cussed at the com­pe­ti­tion com­mit­tee meet­ing last week. It has to be done for the sur­vival and fu­ture suc­cess of the game.

I say this purely be­cause the in­ter­change im­pacts far more than just play­ers play­ing more min­utes. Of course it af­fects the way coaches ap­proach a game, par­tic­u­larly in the lat­ter parts of a match.

But most im­por­tantly, it will af­fect body shapes and sizes, which will have a rip­ple ef­fect on grass­roots and en­sure the sur­vival of the game.

If you bring the in­ter­change down from eight — and even­tu­ally I hope it will get to once you’re re­placed you stay off — it will do lots of things.

It will open up the game, change body shapes, help par­tic­i­pa­tion and bring the lit­tle guy back into the game and ul­ti­mately take a lot of pres­sure off ref­er­ees be­cause the ruck won’t be a mess with wres­tle and the third man in.

This will present more op­por­tu­ni­ties against a de­fen­sive line and re­duce the em­pha­sis of struc­tured play like de­coys and con­stantly play­ing on the out­side of teams.

Take New­cas­tle’s Brock Lamb on Fri­day night. He has played just 31 games and had Vil­iame Kikau run­ning at him to start the game. Then he could have eas­ily had James Fisher-Har­ris, switch­ing from the mid­dle, or a fresh James Tamou or Sione Ka­toa. It’s not fair.

It’s fine to say back in the day the lit­tle guys like Al­fie Langer or Ricky Stu­art had big men run­ning at them too, but they knew if they wore them down phys­i­cally for the first 20 min­utes they would get them in the last 20 min­utes of each half when they were vul­ner­a­ble to speed and foot­work. That was the chal­lenge of the game.

More im­por­tantly, they were foot­ballers. But the ma­jor­ity of play­ers we are see­ing to­day are ro­bots based on the way the coach wants to play, which is gen­er­ally based on per­cent­ages.

Gone are the days of nat­u­ral foot­ballers who would dic­tate to the coach the way they should play. This is be­cause in­stinct, to a cer­tain de­gree, has been coached out of the game be­cause we now breed ath­letes, not foot­ballers.

I am not say­ing we don’t have great plays and some nat­u­ral in­stinct at times. My point is it’s the mi­nor­ity when it should be the ma­jor­ity.

We have seen the poor refs in the past six years, in par­tic­u­lar, come un­der fire. But ul­ti­mately they have been, and still are, the whip­ping boys for the lack of vi­sion and adapt­abil­ity to the evo­lu­tion of the game from head of­fice.

The more rules there are to en­force, the in­creased like­li­hood of hu­man er­ror.

Fa­tigue would al­low the ref­er­ees to con­cen­trate on fun­da­men­tal rules like for­ward passes, knock-ons and off-side, not wor­ry­ing about a mil­lion things in the ruck.

The ul­ti­mate say should go down to the fans. Are you happy with the way the game is be­ing played? I’m not!

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