Slow Play The Balls Are Causing Issues, But Is Australia Really To Blame?

Cause and effect.

It is something that gets over looked far too often in Rugby League. When you change one thing, it effects other things you possibly don’t want it to effect.

Right now in Super League we are seeing how short sighted moves can effect areas of the game many did not expect.

Slow play the balls are upsetting Super League fans, players, coaches and officials, and yet it was RFL officials themselves that caused the problem by changing rule interpretations that, in turn, effected areas of the game they did not expect them to effect.

Of course, all of these problems were blamed in Australia, to the point where officials in the UK have said they wanted slow play the balls to compete with Australia, but now they want faster play the balls like Australia has.

League officials and coaches in England are quite simply confused.

Because they don’t have the ability to break down the game as well as their Australian counterparts, they don’t really know what the problem is, and they don’t know how to fix things.

I hate the term wrestling because it is a simplistic term that can lead people astray on the facts of what is happening.

Effective tackling is a better term to use.

From 1995 when the game in Australia become full time professional, every team was looking for an edge. They now had players training full time, they were bringing in more coaches and specialist coaches.

In a game where 300+ tackles are made by each side, its pretty obvious that the team that tackles the most effectively will have a huge advantage. Using leverage, using holds, controlling and attacking players momentum, its all stuff that has been happening right from 1895, however now it was all being look at in much finer detail.

NRL clubs brought in Ju-Jitsu coaches, who are from a sport where controlling momentum, using holds and leverage are what its all about. These coaches refined skills in the same was soccer coaches were used to refine kicking skills and personal trainers were used to refine weight sessions and fitness training.

This led to more effective tackling, and as time went on it slowed the play the ball down.

A slower play the ball was fine, but when it went from effective tackling to slowing down the player after a tackle had been effected, the NRL stepped in.

That is why the NRL now has two referee’s.

The Artificially Fast Play The Ball
The chest beating in England was about how fast Super League was. Faster means better right?

Referee’s basically wanted defensive players to immediately get off the attacking player in a tackle. In many cases it was before a tackle was really finished.

The super fast play the ball created the style of game played, where scooting from dummy half against a defense that wasn’t set was the way forward. That changed the focus of players and what players in certain positions needed to do. It changed the game in England for an entire generation.

The 2008 World Cup
They were the most well prepared English Rugby League World Cup side. They had longer to prepare than any other side, more money was spent on them than any other side. The coach got everything he wanted, these guys were given everything.

To say that Englands 2008 World Cup run was a failure is to understate things.

It was clear from the outset that England were simply out matched in every department, however their surprise at the effectiveness of the tackling of opposition teams was the startling thing.

England were simply not prepared for the way opposition teams locked them up in tackles. They were so use to fast play the balls in Super League that when they were allowed to be tackled, they had no idea what to do.

The slower play the balls exposed the fact that England’s dummy halves didn’t know when to pick and choose when to run. It showed that English halves and standoffs had completely lost the ability to control a game and break down an opposition defense.

This was shown to be a problem with the English referee’s as well. Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga all complained about the English referee’s and requested other officials.

England, Scotland and Ireland wanted the English officials, showing once again that in the UK we had seen the rule interpretations splinter the game off in a different direction.

The World Cup Postmortem
It was a disaster for England, and so questions had to be asked. I got the feeling that their hearts were in the right place, but the people making the decisions just didn’t understand what the real problem was.

The better sides slowed down Englands play the ball. So if Super League uses a slow play the ball, they will be better equipped to take on Australia and New Zealand…right?

So Super League artificially slowed down the play the ball. It was not a result of more effective tackling by Super League teams, referee’s were simply instructed to allow players to lie on the tackled player for longer and no blow penalties as quickly.

This did slow down Super League and it did bring the game a little back towards what the rest of the world was playing, but because it was artificial, it wasn’t quite working how they wanted it too.

The Artificially Slow Play The Ball
In one off season the play the ball went from being super fast to super slow. This upset a generation of English fans and player who were now watching a different game.

It showed up many of the problems in the English game and a player like Rob Burrow’s career was basically shut down. A good thing, it was showing up players with no halfback skills, but still, it was dramatic.

Nathan Brown had come from the NRL. He saw the rule changes and knew what needed to happen, he needed to make sure his team tackled more effectively. He took a so-so team to new heights on coaching ability.

Other teams saw this and realized they had to tackle more effectively themselves, and so the artificially slow play the ball was slowed further by better tackling by Super League clubs.

Two Referees
Now to combat the problem of super slow play the balls, some English officials are calling for two referee’s to be used in Super League, just like we have in the NRL.

Once again it is a case of not really understanding what the problem is and what needs to be done to fix things. Its simplistic, and maybe it will luck out and fix things in England, but I don’t think it will.

How To Fix The Problem
Super League needs to be brought back into line with the way the rest of the world plays the game.

English referee’s are simply not up to standard, and why would you expect them to be? The RFL gives them so many ways to call the game, they don’t give them the support needed to improve and when major mistakes are made, no one is accountable because there is not enough depth in the ranks to bring someone new up!

So referee’s need to be makes full time and accountable. Money needs to be spent to bring them up to speed. If you get the group of NRL referee’s and stand them side by side with their Super League counterparts, you can see difference in fitness between the two!

Another change that needs to be made is that English referee’s need to head to Australia on a regular basis to work with NRL officials. Send one over for a month during the season. They can run the sidelines, they won’t get control of games, but they will learn a lot and they will get a lot out of the more professional environment.

From there I think we need coaching conferences where anyone within the two top tiers of the English game that is involved in coaching and they are shown new coaching techniques, new tactics and where the game is right now in Australia.

That will be hard for some to swallow at first, but over time it will become the norm and give new ideas to coaches, and that will filter right through the game in England.

The RFL can do both of these things and as an administration, this is their job. This is what they should be doing.

I think if the RFL goes ahead and do these two things, it all the problems we have now in Super League will sort themselves out.

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