Peter Smith: Super League clubs miss the point of a golden opportunity

Matt Parcell.
Matt Parcell.
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NOW THE clubs are in charge it seems the plan to revitalise Betfred Super League and bring fans flocking back is based simply on copying what happens in Australia.

Innovations proposed for next season include golden-point extra-time in drawn matches, a shot clock to cut out time wasting, reduced interchanges and axing the free play – all laws which are used in the NRL.

Former Castleford Tigers player Kirk Dixon.

Former Castleford Tigers player Kirk Dixon.

Golden point is set to be the new ‘club call’, an unnecessary idea introduced for the sake of it and popular with virtually nobody. As of next season, if games in the competition are level at the end of normal time up to two additional five-minute periods will be played with the first team to score winning the game.

The same policy has been used to break a stalemate in cup ties and play-offs for the past few seasons, since replays were scrapped. Golden point has operated in the NRL since 2003, but it is difficult to find anybody who is in favour of its introduction over here.

The argument is fans pay to see a positive result and don’t want games ending in deadlock. Perhaps that’s why nobody is interested in football!

A draw is a legitimate result and, after two teams have bashed each other to a standstill for 80 minutes, the last thing they need is to have to carry on a little longer.

If Super League really wants to become more popular it should start by asking the supporters what they think.

Peter Smith

Player welfare must be considered, particularly as the other laws coming in next year are designed to speed the game up. Golden point extra-time can be exciting, but it is not rugby league. As Leeds Rhinos’ Aussie hooker Matt Parcell has pointed out, generally it develops into a mad scramble for drop goals and all semblance of structured play goes out of the window.

If there has to be a winner or loser, golden try – an idea suggested by Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington and with the backing of Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell – would be a fairer way of settling matters.

Seven years ago Castleford Tigers won 20-18 at Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in a Challenge Cup tie decided by Kirk Dixon’s penalty kick 11 minutes into extra-time. Before that five different players had missed with drop-goal attempts. Were such a scenario to be repeated in Super League the game would end in a draw anyway, as the points will be shared if the deadlock hasn’t been broken after 90 minutes. That surely defeats the object.

Players and fans can accept tied matches. What they don’t want is games that go on for more than two hours, particularly on a Thursday or Friday night – and especially in January , February or March.

Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington.

Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington.

It makes sense to standardise the rules between Super League and the NRL – in fact right across the sport – but not by bringing in bad ones. The changes aimed at speeding things up are a positive step, but what’s gained there could be lost by 10 additional minutes.

Details have yet to be finalised but in the NRL teams are penalised if they take longer than 35 seconds to form a scrum or 30 to take a drop out.

That keeps the ball in play for longer, giving fans and television viewers more bang for their buck.

The interchange law will also open the game up. Fatigue will play a greater part, players have to do longer spells and coaches will need to think in greater depth about substitutions.

Daryl Powell.

Daryl Powell.

Similarly, the free play rule – which was not used in Australia – slowed the game down, as players hacked invariably ahead following an opposition knock-on, then the action stopped as everybody trooped back to the scene of the original infringement.

Referees will now judge if an advantage has been gained and while that will lead to some controversies, it will also cut down how long supposedly 80 minutes of rugby really takes. The law changes, however, are like rearranging deckchairs on Titanic.

The rules are not what makes the NRL a superior product, it is a greater talent pool, better marketing, more media coverage and so on.

There are bigger issues facing Super League, particularly a feeling among fans that their wishes are being ignored. If Super League really wants to become more popular it should start by asking the supporters what they think.