I am an avid and passionate fan of rugby league and greatly anticipate the coming Test matches, the World Cup and the next season. But I’m not alone when I say that something has gone wrong with our game.

These are the goal posts in the new league. Picture: Mark Evans

I have been a dedicated fan for over a decade, and while that may not seem that long to some, it is just under half my life and this is the first time I’ve felt disappointed by it.

Many have blamed the so called refereeing crisis, saying the officials need to be re-taught the rules but the problem goes deeper than this.

There is confusion amongst officials over the most basic of calls. One video referee allows a try while another disallows one in the same circumstances. A perfect example of this being the much talked about shepherding incidents, where the ball-player runs behind his own teammates.

It is rugby league 101 not to allow players to do this and yet referees have awarded tries that come of it. Benefit of the doubt comes to mind as well. Freddie Fittler among others say it is ruining the game. This one rule is the biggest source of inconsistency and confusion in the game. Why does it exist?

The burden of proof lies upon the prosecution in criminal proceedings, so why in rugby league are we placing the burden of evidence on the defence?

If anything the rule should be reversed. Considering the sheer amount of camera coverage in our modern game, if the defence is able to wrap up the ball entirely and create reasonable doubt, give it to them.

Unfortunately this is not likely to happen.

While I have criticised some referee decisions I do not blame them. I blame the people writing the rule book. The people who allowed shepherding to slip through the cracks in the referee training program. The people who believe getting a ball past the try-line is worthy of benefit of the doubt. The same people who have decided that in a full contact sport, the shoulder charge is too dangerous and must be banned.

To those who defend this decision by saying it is to protect the players, where does it end. Several players have commented that the difference between rugby league and rugby union is becoming less and less noticeable, so when will it end?

Will we force tackles to be made one-on-one? Will we introduce Kevlar and flak jackets like the NFL? We are already on the way to establishing rules for blockers when running the ball and we are on the verge of just giving points away for getting the ball into the try zone, let alone for grounding it.

A wise man once said you cannot legislate away stupidity and yet that is what is happening here. The game is updated so new techniques don’t compromise it and yet the game is being compromised.

Law by law, inch by inch, we are losing league. League is a contact sport, people will always get hurt. It’s time we stop treating the players like boys and start treating them like the professional athletes they are and trust that they know what they are doing.

It is time we let the game stand on its own merits and not the hand-me-down rules of another code. To those that write the rules: stop trying to fix what isn’t broken and keep our game just that. Our game. 

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEST.

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    • Geronimo says:

      05:25am | 03/12/12

      Like many other observers of activities that fly under the false banner of ‘sport’, the only item of interest to this scribe is a method of making a quid out of it.

    • BJ says:

      06:15am | 03/12/12

      The way that referees are treated is killing the game. Mistakes by everyone else on the feild are treated as just a part of the game. Whenever a 50:50 decision doesn.t go someone’s way, we never hear the end of it.

    • chuck says:

      07:44am | 03/12/12

      It’s the clowns that are on the rules committee that need to justify their pay that come up with the ridiculous changes that are made. Just have a look at Aust. rules too!

    • DJ says:

      07:55am | 03/12/12

      You do realise they have changed the Referee leadership team to address the benefit of the doubt situation and go back to a more traditional understanding of the rule?

      In regards to the shoulder charge you are kidding yourself - go talk to Dean Young about how soft the game is. The game is plenty tough enough without the shoulder charge.

      Sports articles are good but maybe get someone who has a bit more knowledge of the game (male or female grin)

    • JJFC says:

      10:53am | 03/12/12

      The Dean Young shot was a classic example of “the table” (see YouTube) which I use with my friends regularly on grass and no one gets hurt. I would call Inglis’s shot “The table with force” but not a shoulder charge. It doesn’t help Dean Young that he was playing for the softest team in the game either.

    • Ando says:

      04:03pm | 03/12/12

      “maybe get someone who has a bit more knowledge of the game” ,you mean someone who agrees with you . People with a lot more knowledge of the game than you think the shoulder charge should stay.

    • mrd1980 says:

      08:11am | 03/12/12

      Nick, in my experience there are two types of people in this world: those who care passionately about rugby league, and those who don’t live in New South Wales or Queensland.

      Perhaps for your next contribution to The Punch, you could write something that appeals to a national audience? Surely an arts student has plenty of issues of national importance for which they feel, or will profess, a passion?

    • hammy says:

      08:46am | 03/12/12

      Yes Nick,

      In future, run everything past mrd1980 and gain his approval first, before posting a story.  He’s the self appointed authority on what the rest of the country will find of interest.

    • frog says:

      06:14pm | 03/12/12

      There are people overseas who are interested in this game too (myself, for one), so maybe mrd1980 needs to broaden his/her horizons beyond Australian borders and find out what the rest of the world is interested in ??

    • Stevo4 says:

      08:23am | 03/12/12

      Dig deeper, why have the rules descended into this subjective mess though?

      There are a few very loud commentators, a former coach in particular, who think it their job to criticise referees without let up. Their opinion must be heard and acknowledged, and has big sway on the way the rules are written. This particular commentator was very instrumental in having the obstruction rule changed in fact, primarily because he thought his team was dudded by this call in the past. Notice he was very quiet around the origin decable this year.

      Then you have the coaches conference, a once yearly event where the head coaches get together and discuss rule changes. Every time proposals are made for the rules to be improved, particularly with regards to wrestling, the coaches of the teams who have most to lose always block the recommendation. It doesn’t help that these are the most experienced coaches with the most sway.

      The shoulder charge ban was probably the one thing they have done correctly.

    • iansand says:

      08:40am | 03/12/12

      Obstruction rule should be pretty simple.  Forget about affecting the play.  If there is a player between the ball carrier and the defence, unless they were a dummy runner, there is a penalty.  And if a dummy runner lingers and does not pass through to the rear of the defensive line as soon as possible there is a penalty.

      What the game really needs is proper scrums and proper scrum penalties.  Everyone loves watching a scrum form 3 or 4 times.  Not.

    • Big Jay says:

      08:48am | 03/12/12

      @Iansand - “What the game really needs is proper scrums and proper scrum penalties.  Everyone loves watching a scrum form 3 or 4 times.  Not.”...Are you talking about league or union?

    • WTF says:

      09:24am | 03/12/12

      I think if you cant do scrums properly don’t do them at all. Why have a group hug, and roll the ball next to it and then pass it out. what purpose does it serve the game?

    • iansand says:

      09:38am | 03/12/12

      When was the last time you saw a scrum (let alone a scrum penalty) in League?

    • TimB says:

      10:08am | 03/12/12

      I’m pretty sure the last time I saw a scrum in League was the 2012 NRL Grand Final iansand.

    • iansand says:

      10:55am | 03/12/12

      No, TimB, you saw a group hug that would not be out of place in an under 11s AFL match.

    • JTO says:

      11:23am | 03/12/12

      iansand - I reckon they should just allow the shepherd, then maybe forget about grounding the ball, make the padding thicker (they do wear padding now… girls), maybe add helmets, then you’d have a game worth watching.

    • TimB says:

      11:52am | 03/12/12

      No iansand, I saw a scrum.

      Just because it doesn’t match your elitist vision of what a scrum should be doesn’t change that fact.

    • iansand says:

      12:24pm | 03/12/12

      A scrum is a contest for the ball.  One of those concepts is missing in League scrums.

    • TimB says:

      12:56pm | 03/12/12

      ‘One of those concepts is missing in League scrums. ‘

      Oh there’s a contest. Rather one-sided granted, but it’s still there.

      Winning a scrum against the feed may be rare, but it does happen.

    • iansand says:

      01:08pm | 03/12/12

      Winning against the feed?  When?  When the half back accidentally bounces the ball off the hooker’s shin when he feeds the scrum (assuming the feed does not go straight to the lock).

    • Mikeymike says:

      04:25pm | 03/12/12

      @ JTO
      ...add a 40 second play clock, a forward pass, 4 attempts to make 10 yards to maintain possession and I think you’re on to something there.

    • TheRealDave says:

      06:47pm | 03/12/12

      As long as its based on NCAA rather than NFL rules. Because College Ball craps all over the No Fun League.

      As a side point. I retired from League aged 31, with a single game cameo at age 33. I played Gridiron this year aged 39 playing both offense and defense all year, and took out the clubs MVP for the year wink

      I can tell you which game is tougher wink

    • Zara says:

      08:58am | 03/12/12

      Could not agree more. Good article nick.

    • Daisy says:

      09:30am | 03/12/12

      Good article, although I am not a fan of rugby, but I do like this article. If there are still problems going on in rugby league, that’s just mean people may didn’t legislate on the right factors, on the right driven force to stop the chain of motivation of something not good .

      I think legislation is a kind of art, not too many, but create paths for people to go through.

      Good article.

    • TheRealDave says:

      10:20am | 03/12/12

      Rule changes are just a symptom of the ongoing corporate ‘soft@#$king’ of the game of Rugby League.

      I’m an ‘old school’ rugby league front rower of far far too many seasons and if I wasn’t pushing 40 I’d be lacing on the boots every weekend I could. Sadly age doesn’t let us do fun stuff forever. I grew up travelling every second weekend to cheer on my beloved Bulldogs at Belmore and every other weekend to the old grounds around Sydernee like Kogarah, Leichhardt, Lidcome etc during the later 70’s and early 80’s. I loved sitting on the hill with my pie and a drink watching the footy with my old man and running onto the field to pat Steve Mortimer on the back and give him a ‘great game Turvey’, shaking hands with Dr George and my idol at the time – Greg Bretnall (hey, I played fullback for Bankstown Sports back then so of course the Doggies fullback was going to be my idol) and getting the guys autographs and stuff….I played the game from then right up till 2001, with a cameo in 2003 and stuffed my shoulder…but enough reminiscing…

      Rugby League started going ‘down the shitter’ once corporate Australia realized ’ hey, we can make money from this!’  They started putting down plastic seats where grassed areas once were, they stopped people bringing their own drinks and food in and they started charging extortionate prices to get in the gates….and $7 for a Lite beer… WTF!?!?! I was given some member passes to see a Broncos game this year and I still spent about $70 on a bloody hotdog and a couple of beers during the game! I have no idea what it would costs a family to go see a game and have something to eat - i think you’d need to take a second mortgage! We used to get 3 games – The young fellas in the Under 21’s, Reserve Grade and then First Grade – a half days worth of entertainment. Now, at Lang Park (screw you Suncorp – it will FORVER be Lang Park to me!!) we get the kids running around for 20 minutes (which is great for the kids) and then the main game, then you’re off home. That’s it – thanks for coming. Unless it’s a State of Origin game then you get a ‘curtain raiser’.

      Ontop of those insults, they took ‘Our Game’ and decided to ‘package’ it to try and gain more ‘viewers’ from audiences who really don’t care about Rugby League - like women. It reminds me of great war movies that for god knows what reason suddenly have a love interest or jump out of a great action scene to show the wives and girlfriends back home….WHY?!?!? It’s a bloody war movie - women aren’t going to watch it regardless!! If the court will allow as Exhibit A – Pearl Harbour. All you are doing is ruining it for the blokes who do like war movies and are enjoying the one they were watching!!  Again…I digress…...and I apologise…

      So they have trimmed and trimmed to ‘package’ the game to fit into a prime time TV audience. And since a lot of us can’t afford to go to a game every week anymore its become more about ‘the ratings’ than the game. I grew up in an era where scrums were an actual contest. When I was playing you cannot imagine the boost it would give to you on the field when you won a scrum against the feed. I played most of my adult life in the front row and those bloody hookers would swing off us and have their legs as far back as their bloody lock at times trying to get that ball back. I remember being able to actually ‘push’ in the scrums and drive forwards in order to get the ball. We used to use it as a tactic late in the game when everyone was knackered and getting lazy. We’d be walking up to the scrum and and someone would call out ‘Red Dog’ (some of you might get it….) and that would be the call for all 6 of us to just push our guts out and most times we would simply charge right over them and get the ball back, usually deep in their half. But no – can’t do that any more.

      Can’t ‘rake’ the ball now either. So now we have a generation of lazy players who can’t play the ball properly – not that they have to any more either. Remember back when you actually had to touch the ball with your foot as you ‘played the ball’?? If you didn’t *whistle* Scrum for not playing the ball properly, opposition loose head and feed. Remember when you got to ‘tap’ the ball you actually had to place it on the ground AND let go of it? Not this touch football crap. This is all fundamental stuff that helped slow the game down just a fraction, enough time for guys to get back the 10m, players to get set and ball runners, kick chasers, play makers organised for the next play. And this is before we get into big changes like the ‘obstruction’ rule (and yes, I say ‘screw you’ it will always be ‘shepherding’ to me as well) and now this absolutely appalling and ridiculous no Shoulder Charge bollocks.


    • TheRealDave says:

      10:21am | 03/12/12


      Actually pulling off a successful ‘shoulder charge’ isn’t bloody easy. Which is why you are lucky to see one a game. 97% of players don’t do it, because they can’t. 2% think they can do it and might pull one off once or twice a season and every other time they try they either miss or make a dick of themselves by getting sat on their arse by the bloke running the ball. And you get a 1% of them that are genuine hitters. Guys that have the mechanics and timing down pat and can rip them off a couple of times a game – if they are lucky. And they do look spectacular, yes they do get the crowd on their feet and let me tell you, as a player, by Christ it does get you going on the field. That’s what this game of Rugby League is all about – big hits, spectacular athleticism, running, kicking, diversions, taking a hit to get a mate into space, working together, trusting the bloke beside you, lifting and pulling off something big when you are dead on your feet etc but its all being eroded to make it ‘palatable’ to a TV audience, to fit between advertising blocks, to sell products and people. Take a look who they just appointed as the CEO of the NRL – some clown who doesn’t know anything about the bloody game!

      I’m sick of ‘administrators’ screwing ‘our game’.  I wish we’d get back to some ‘football’ instead. I’m not calling for a ‘bring back the biff’ kinda crap. Those days are long gone – although I see no dramas with the odd punch up or two, it’s a physical game, you’re playing your guts out and tempers do fray – we are blokes after all. The day we start having some gay arsed ‘Melee’ and open handed slapping bullshit like the AFL is the day I switch off RL for good. If some suburban housefrau think RL is ‘tough rough for little Johnny’ then so be it – he’s better off playing soccer. Stop watering down our very physical sport to cater to a minority that would, in all likelihood, have never played anyway and were just looking for an excuse to avoid little Johnny’s hair being ruffled.

      I know RL isn’t going to return to the ‘good old days’….but please stop soft#*@#ing our game! We want to see the big hits, we want to see the ball being tossed around, we want to see the big blokes charging it up to the line and we want to see the fast outside backs running into space. Let them!

    • Brad says:

      12:10pm | 03/12/12

      Well put, RealDave,
      I hadn’t watched it for years, then when I did I saw useless scrums and double movements !
      Yep, they have screwed it.

    • Big Jay says:

      12:48pm | 03/12/12

      Good comment TRD.

      I agree league is being softened up, to not make it ‘palatable’ on TV so that parents (mum’s mainly) will let their kids actually play the game and ensure the NRL has a future in terms player numbers/fans/growth etc.

      Union and AFL have been softened up to by same sort of “administrators”. Can hardly hip and shoulder in AFL (never see hard hitting shepherding) anymore and no studs/feet on players at the ruck in union. Total BS.

    • TimB says:

      12:55pm | 03/12/12

      Maybe this already happens (I don’t know), but why don’t they use a gradiated system of rules? E.g The young kids are restricted to touch football only. As they get older they introduce tackling, but still forbid some of the more heavier hitting techniques. Finally as they get into the mid-teens, it’s full blown League rules.

      That way it keeps little Johnny safe until he’s big enough and ugly enough to make decisions for himself.

      This is how I remember things being handled back in my baseball playing days- You’d start with T-Ball, smaller diamonds & shorter games then move up to full pitch, and longer games.

    • Big Jay says:

      01:28pm | 03/12/12

      @TimB - That already happens. In league they have modified rules for kids up until under 13s, and union till under 19’s.

      But the parents (mum’s) watch the one that is on TV and decide from that.

    • TheRealDave says:

      02:09pm | 03/12/12

      We did have a system ‘back in the day’ Tim.

      We sued to have a system where kids of the same weight played in the same teams, regardless of age. This was deemed unfair and unsafe with older kids playing agaisnt younger kids with different skills and maturity levels. So we went with age brackets…which was fine until we started importing 100 kilo ‘12 year old’ Samoans and Tongans with facial hair and dodgy birth certificates….

      But there is still, as far as I’m aware - and I have been out of the game for a few years, the Mini-Mod System. Mini Football for the younger 6-9 year olds, Mod Football for 10-12 year olds before regular football rules kick in in Under 13’s.

    • Michael R says:

      11:46am | 03/12/12

      My sentiments exactly. Death by a thousand cuts. Just like rugby league split off from rugby union in 1908, the game is ripe for another revolution. Gaelic football anyone? We need a fresh start.

    • Justin says:

      12:21pm | 03/12/12

      RealDave, You basically took the words out of my mouth there. Completely agree. The old days are obviously not going to come back, with the striking in scrums and play the balls. And the game has gotten a lot softer because the new generation as a whole is a lot softer. For example, I think im soft compared to my dad and I was a front rower and he was a winger and hooker back in the day.

      Many doctors and corporates are changing the game to make it more family friendly and gain support from junior ranks, which is a good and bad from different perspectives. Parents, in particular mums, won’t let children play when they see images of Dean young getting knocked senseless and If there is no juniors, there won’t be a future for the game.

      The obstruction rule is a grey area and will always remain a grey area, as the rules state that if the referee deem an advantage has been achieved. Im a Bulldogs fan, looking at our main back line move, some people would consider that obstruction and is very grey ruling. Such is the example when we scored a try against the Tigers at ANZ this year, I was there I thought it was obstruction. It was awarded a try and then the next day, Harrigan said it should not have been.

      For what it is worth, I can’t see it improving, especially with this new guy, David Smith, at the helm. Personally I think they need people like Terry Lamb, Peter Sterling and Gus Gould to become higher management in the game and bring back traditional rugby league. These rugby league figures need to control the future of the game and not people who don’t know the game, like they are implementing now.

    • the nothing person says:

      12:38pm | 03/12/12

      Rugby league died at the end of the 1966 season!

    • the nothing person says:

      12:39pm | 03/12/12

      abolish scrums now!!

    • TheRealDave says:

      02:14pm | 03/12/12

      I would also like to point out that a ‘Shoulder Charge’ is not an elbow to the head. Never has been. You get rightly sent off for that. And if you slip and fall into one - then thats just your own bad luck.

      Or as Tony rAbbott would say (and thus violating my own rule never to drag politics into a non-political thread ...but its apt…).... Shit Happens.

      For the record - I put myself into that 2% category of blokes who will try and line them up and occasionally get off one good hit…but usually bounces off (thank you 120 kilo Tongans) or misses (stupid side stepping halfbacks/hookers…..)

    • TimB says:

      02:54pm | 03/12/12

      Haha, I tried to do that to my League-playing cousin once. Figured he’d have his guard down from taking it easy on the younger cousins and I’d take him by surprise.

      No dice- Bounced me halfway back to my own line. Still haven’t lived it down.

    • TheRealDave says:

      06:44pm | 03/12/12

      I had my Victorian boss at a Christmas Party once try and back up his claim that AFL players ‘hip and shoulder’ harder than League Players tackle…..he learnt the hard way wink

    • Nick says:

      02:30pm | 03/12/12

      I think Justin and Dave are onto it, great comments guys.

    • vonnie von von says:

      06:28pm | 03/12/12

      good article nick ... who does mrd1980 run his story past !!! goes for you too hammy!!

    • Nay says:

      05:16pm | 03/12/12

      Great article Nick. TheRealDave, I agree with NEARLY everything you say. Not all females want a softer rugby league. I was so angry when I heard they were banning the shoulder charge! The game is getting pussy enough without taking away one of the best aspects of the game imo. Have the officials ever looked on youtube and seen how many views are on the rugby league hardest hits videos? That’s what people want to see! If you don’t want to see hard hits, don’t watch a full contact sport. And also “bring back the biff”! A bit of biff on the field, then back to the game. It was great. And TheRealDave, I hate it when they leave an action scene to show a random shot of the females. Just get back to the fighting!

    • Darren Kohlenberg says:

      06:42pm | 03/12/12


      Good stuff keep it up.


    • Alex says:

      06:54pm | 03/12/12

      Hey Nick
      Good article for someone your 21 years.
      I ask those who have criticized as to wether
      Or not they could have written as well at your
      Age. Keep it up and hope to read more from
      The youth of today


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