I woke up today anticipating a huge night of fun and football. There were two games I was taking a specific interest in, Canberra versus Penrith, and the Knights playing the Eels. The All Blacks were also playing, but they were only of a casual interest to me.
The night kicked off at 7:30, with the All Blacks playing the Wallabies. I used to be a big rugby fan in the mid90s. My passion had fallen away towards the end of the millennium though, as the game began to lose some of its flair and became more kicking orientated. I didn�t hold high hopes for enjoying this match, and left my computer on as a boredom resort. However, I was very pleasantly surprised by the enjoyment factor of this game. In fact, it was to be the most enjoyable of the three matches I watched that evening. There were several points that came to my attention that would help improve rugby league in 2006.
The referee, Jonathan Kaplan, was outstanding. His refereeing may not have been perfect, but the respect he commanded was a brilliant sight. When I compared this to Andrew Johns abusing the referee in the later league game I realised what an ugly side of modern day league this is. If players in the other code can largely accept the ruling of the referee then why can�t league players? It is an ugly image when calls are continually disputed; I know this better than most having spent several seasons watching Simon Woolford continually challenging calls. Obviously rugby union has a larger worldwide pool of referees to call on for international fixtures, but I still think the NRL should aspire to improve their refereeing quality to the point of the union on the weekend.
I must see about ten forward passes go during every game of rugby league I watch. In rugby union the touch judges stay in line with the play, therefore being able to see these indiscretions far easier than league referees. The fact is that touch judges lining up on the ten-metre line in league haven�t worked. We see maybe three or four penalties for offside in a game, while far more forward passes go unpunished, especially from dummy half in the play the ball. The referee should assume control over offside penalties, therefore freeing up the touch judges to concentrate on the play the ball.
Counter attacking happened regularly, with the back lines combining for some brilliant returns of the ball. The two sides also treated the ball with slightly less respect than many NRL sides; they were willing to chance their arm. Particularly when watching Canberra later that night I was given a perfect example of everything attacking football shouldn�t be. Canberra started a set inside the Panthers twenty metre line, and proceeded to take four one out hit ups in a row. To see teams attack from their own twenty-metre line was very refreshing, as I am used to watching a side that struggles to attack in the opponents twenty.
The video referee was also called on, and seemed similar to the league version in time spent. However, from watching union previously I know this isn�t usually the case. The video referee is only permitted to adjudicate on matters happen in goal. This means a far quicker analysis before the decision is made. While this practise is far more efficient, many factors can be missed if not judging the lead up to the incident. I think while this works well in union it wouldn�t in league, where the referees tend to often miss obstructions and errors before the ball passes the try line.
Of course this article doesn't mean I am a converted union fan. I do, however, think we can learn from aspects of their game. While diehard league fans will rubbish this suggestion, it is the best way to continue the rise of rugby league in Australia. If the NRL can remove annoying little factors such as referee arguments and constant forward passes the game will become far more aesthetically pleasing. I have personally found the NRL to be reasonably boring in 2006 when games don�t involve the side I support. The games seem to be slower, and more related on the strength and size of the forwards than the skill and flair of the backs. If we can learn from an exciting game played in the other code then we should take every chance.