Leeds Rhinos: Mac raises questions as well as eyebrows

Brian McDermott

Brian McDermott

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Reducing the number of interchanges would make rugby league a different game, Leeds Rhinos boss Brian McDermott reckons.

Reducing the number of interchanges would make rugby league a different game, Leeds Rhinos boss Brian McDermott reckons.

McDermott said he has no problem with the current system of four substitutes and 10 permitted changes, but also admitted he would not be opposed to a reduction.

During McDermott’s playing days, in the 1990s and early 2000s, teams were allowed only six changes. That was increased to 12 and then reduced by two to the current system.

McDermott used only three of his named substitutes during the 12-12 draw at Huddersfield Giants last Friday, with Mitch Achurch left on the bench for the entire game.

The Leeds boss has declined to reveal the thinking behind that, but asked for his view about the current laws on interchanges, McDermott said: “I think 10 is all right.

“It would be interesting to have a look at eight, though I haven’t given it that much thought.

“It would make players do a full half without being interchanged – at least one of your props would have to do that and at least two of your back-rowers.

“People would have to play longer game time and then what you would effectively do is carry somebody on your bench as an impact player, which is how it used to be a little bit.

“You would bring somebody off the bench to have an impact on the game. Then it raises the question of when do you do that – how long do you hold your players back before you do that?

“There’s a bit in it. To lose another couple of rotations, it would have a significant impact on how much game time one of your prop players and two of your back-row players have.”

Eight interchanges has been experimented with at academy level, but McDermott said: “I think it is going to stay at 10 for a while.

“I have heard nothing about a debate on whether to go down to eight or not. I would not be opposed to it.

“I would like to think you have to break teams down due to fatigue and due to keeping them in an arm wrestle.

“I like that aspect of our game, the arm wrestle aspect. I think that is particular to our sport.

“You don’t get it in football and you don’t get it in rugby union, where there’s not much tactically you can do other than get to the end of your possessions and kick the ball as far as you can.

“It does come down to a bit of a war of attrition and I think that is particular to our game and that aspect would be more important if we got down to eight changes.”

Substitutes were introduced in 1964, but only for injuries up to half-time. They were allowed for any reason up to and including half-time in 1965 and at any time from four years later.

The number of substitutions and changes has gradually increased since then, before the recent reduction.

McDermott said: “When I played, pretty much if you went on you stayed on and if you came off you stayed off. There were a lot more 80-minute players. In the main I was an 80-minute player, but the game has progressed and to do 80 minutes in today’s game is incredibly hard.

“Jamie Peacock did 80 minutes on Friday and came up with some unbelievable stats and had a big influence on the game. I didn’t think we were that good and only a few individuals prevented Huddersfield from running away with the game. It was a towering performance from JP.”

Jack Walker. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

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