By: Phil Rothfield
RUGBY league fans have witnessed 600 fewer tries in matches over the last two seasons compared with a decade ago.
A combination of slower play-the balls, negative coaching, wrestling, low-risk attack and fitter athletes have contributed to the problem. In 2002 there was an average of 8.54 tries per game.
Last year it dropped to 6.82.
There has been a gradual fall for the last 10 years, although it has picked up slightly this season.
Rugby league is blessed with the incredible talent it has in today's game.
Ben Barba is a freakish player. So too are Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston.
Cameron Smith is the greatest hooker of all time and Greg Inglis is a superstar in any era.
But the overall appeal of the game is held back by negative coaching and little innovation.
Five hit-ups and a kick. Teams taking two points for a penalty goal instead of going for a try. Time wasting.
Field position is more important than anything else. Completion rates are more important than offloads.
The emphasis is more on saving tries rather than scoring them.
So what do we do about it? It's easy to say nothing because the game has survived 100 years.
Or should we react like other sports have done and at least consider change.
Cricket would not have survived in the Test match-only format.
It needed one-dayers and now Twenty20 games to grow and appeal to the broader public.
People who have never followed or had any interest in cricket now regularly watch the interstate Big Bash.
Soccer was the same as cricket. In 1981 the English Premier League changed from two points for a win to three points.
It put more of an emphasis on scoring goals rather than playing conservatively and settling for a point from a draw.
In tennis, tie-breakers were introduced coinciding with major television coverage to stop long and boring drawn-out sets. Rugby league needs to do something too.
Traditional and rusted-on supporters will stick with the game forever, but I'm talking about growth in crowds, membership, television viewers and participation in the next 20 years.
The entire game and the competition structure need to encourage tries and attacking football.
More of our unbelievably skilful wingers spectacularly lunging over in the corners.
Earlier this year two of the sharpest minds in the game, Bob Fulton and Wayne Bennett, described the game as boring.
They blamed the wrestle and referees keeping a poor 10 metres.
My criticism at the time was that Bennett's own team played an unimaginative style of football.
Maybe it's time for the NRL to adopt rugby union's bonus points system.
We've pinched the AFL's finals format so why not look at Super Rugby.
For the point of the exercise, we've adjusted this year's premiership table after 18 rounds and used rugby union's points system (see graphic).
It favours Melbourne, Canterbury and Brisbane who have scored four or more tries 11 times.
The Cronulla Sharks slip from third on the ladder to fifth because they've only scored four tries, five times.
Anything that is going to encourage more creative and more enterprising football is worth consideration.
The rugby union system could also solve one of the game's biggest problems - golden point.
Teams that win would get three points with the loser at least getting something for finishing level after 80 minutes - one point.
The current system is dreadfully unfair - teams that get trounced by 40 points get the same as a side that loses in golden point.
No one wants cricket scores but coaches need to be encouraged to attack rather than defend.
Get rid of the wrestling coaches and put more people like Andrew Johns, Cliff Lyons, Phil Blake, Laurie Daley and Matty Johns on skills coaching.
The overall mindset of the game and the way its coaches think needs to change and that way we'll get our 600 tries back.
* * *
Ben Barba’s length-of-the-field try against Parramatta on Friday night was as special as anything we’ll see this season.
Having to sit through another Broncos Friday night game. It’s so unfair on other clubs but the NRL refuses to do anything about it.
Fuifui Moimoi took no part in Friday night’s game after being floored and concussed in a questionable Sam Kasiano tackle from the kick-off. Eels coach Stephen Kearney made a good point that there should be an 18th man to cover for players knocked out of the game when the incident is serious enough to go on report.
Manly’s poor performance against the Knights can be put down to the fact half the side was suffering from the flu and they were without the Stewart brothers and Steve Matai. Just watch them bounce back against the Bulldogs on Friday night.
No wonder Penrith are chasing Johnathan Thurston because they’ll never make the finals with Luke Walsh and
Travis Burns in the halves positions.
While I acknowledge this subject was partially touched upon in the Golden point thread, this article raises a few new points. I hadn't really thought about the average number of tries per game, but there's obviously been a steady decline. League isn't in danger of becoming dominated by FG's/penalty goals, but I think it's worth looking at.
Secondly, as a converted Union fanboi, I actually like the idea of that extra little incentive to score tries, and a little reward for a close loss. Mainly because of the position it puts us in that converted ladder (10 matches with >/= 4 tries). I don't think we'll necessarily ever see it, but I dunno, there's something appealing about mixing things up a bit and adding a couple more avenues. Perhaps that's just because the nerd side of me likes sitting down and looking over various possible outcomes, especially as we get to the pointy end of the season.