Peter Smith: Changes to improve the image of rugby league

NOT INTERESTED: The crowd for Wakefields home clash with Hull played last Thursday night for the Sky TV cameras was around half the number who turned up for the same fixture at Belle Vue in April, leading to more calls for Thursday night televised matches to be scrapped.

NOT INTERESTED: The crowd for Wakefields home clash with Hull played last Thursday night for the Sky TV cameras was around half the number who turned up for the same fixture at Belle Vue in April, leading to more calls for Thursday night televised matches to be scrapped.

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IT’S TIME for another in this column’s occasional series on ways the game could be improved.

Here are a few irritations which could be removed without major rule changes, but just by applying some common sense.

1: Stop players from the defending team rushing off the goal line as the opposing kicker takes a conversion.

It is a clear attempt to put the kicker off and everybody does it.

Often, the defenders will run off the line and then plod the rest of the way upfield in preparation for the restart.

Referees could bring the practice to an immediate halt by allowing a missed conversion to be retaken.

2: The play-the-ball is one of rugby league’s unique features.

It is the one obvious rule which distinguishes the sport from the other handling code, but has been abused almost to the point of extinction.

A tackled player is supposed to roll the ball backwards with his foot, but that rarely happens. Usually, the non-standing foot is wafted in the general direction of the ball and that’s considered sufficient.

Again, it’s a simple one to put right if referees began awarding penalties for incorrect play-the-balls.

Or – rather like they invariably check for onside following touchdowns off kicks – if the video ref examined the play-the-ball first, players would soon tidy up their act.

3: This column a couple of weeks ago touched on the subject of fixture changes and Thursday night matches.

Since then Leeds Rhinos’ final game of the season, against Leigh Centurions, has been brought forward – at just nine days’ notice – from tomorrow to tonight.

That’s annoying for a whole host of reasons. Apparently a considerable number of Leigh fans had booked hotels for tomorrow night in anticipation of an end-of-season promotion party.

Many of those supporters will be unable to attend this evening, on what is a school night.

The game will be the first Qualifiers fixture played on a Thursday evening, so nobody could have anticipated the change.

It is also essentially a dead rubber, with both clubs already having secured their Super League place for next year before the change was made.

Sky providing a trophy, in honour of former Leigh and Leeds great Bev Risman, is a nice gesture, but it doesn’t make the game any more meaningful.

Rhinos are now being forced to play again just four days after their punishing trip to Huddersfield Giants.

At a time when there is mounting concern over the quality of rugby being played, that doesn’t help. Sky have a right to choose their matches, but they could keep everybody happy by providing more notice of changes and not altering games in the Super-8s.

4: On a related topic, Thursday night games have proved hugely unpopular with paying fans.

When Wakefield Trinity played host to Hull on Sunday, April 24, 6,701 fans turned up to watch.

Last Thursday the teams met again at the same ground in front of a paltry 3,413 – so roughly half the previous crowd couldn’t or didn’t attend.

Scrapping Thursday night matches, which is apparently being considered for next year, would be a very popular move.

Finally on the subject of televised games, let’s return to 7.45pm kick-offs – or at the very least ensure games start on time.

Friday night Super League is now competing with televised Premiership football, which – despite an extra 10 minutes’ official playing time – tends to finish first.

5: Patting an opposing player on the head after he makes a mistake should be a penalty offence.

It’s unnecessary and often leads to skirmishes which take a while to sort out. It’s unsporting behaviour and should be banned.

And if a player kicks or throws the ball away at a break in play, referees should make him fetch it!