Why rugby league needs to ditch the golden point - Peter Smith

THIRTY-FIVE years ago, Leeds were involved with Hull KR in an incredible Challenge Cup semi-final saga.

Tuesday, 30th March 2021, 9:48 pm
James Maloney’s drop-goal winner for Catalans against Hull KR could become a thing of the past if Super League follows a decision by the Rugby Football League to put golden point on hold for this season. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

On March 29, 1986, the teams drew 24-24 at Elland Road in a tie which drew a bumper crowd of 23,866 and had everything other than a winner.

Rovers were reduced to 12 men after 33 minutes when Paul Harkin was sent off for tripping Tonie Currie and also lost second-rower Chris Burton to a broken arm.

Leeds led 12-2, but the Robins pulled four points back before the break when David Laws was awarded a try despite clearly dropping the ball.

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David Laws, scorer of Hull KR's first and controversial try agaist Leeds in their epic 1986 Challenge Cup semi-final at Elland Road. Picture: PA Wire.

Hull KR then stormed 10 points ahead with only a quarter of the game remaining, but Leeds hit back to level by the 68th minute and both teams missed drop goals in a frantic finale.

According to the following season’s Rugby League Yearbook, it was “hailed as the best-ever Challenge Cup tie outside of Wembley”.

Five days later the teams met again, at the same stadium, and more than 32,000 turned up to watch.

The opening half was scoreless, but Rovers drew first blood a minute after the interval and an exhausted Leeds collapsed, slumping to a 17-0 defeat.

Former Super League executive chairman, Robert Elstone. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

Rovers went on to lose the final to Castleford, their third-round opponents this season.

Remarkably, Leeds played seven times in the 1986 competition, without reaching the final - two more than the competition winners.

Having been drawn in the preliminary round - devised to make up the numbers in the years before multiple amateur clubs entered - the Loiners needed a replay to beat Widnes in round three, which was the quarter-finals. Even more astonishingly, Leeds played Bradford Northern in a league game at Headingley the day after the semi-final stalemate.

Nine players - all part-timers in those days - backed up and the hosts were beaten 25-8. Fewer than 7,000 fans attended. Hull KR won at Dewsbury a day later.

Leeds played nine times between the replay defeat and the end of their season little more than a month later, on May 11 - winning two, drawing one and losing the rest.

Replays are now a thing of the past and, in the modern era, Cup ties are decided in one go.

That’s a shame in a way - the gate receipts from the 1986 replay were a then-record £113,345 - but the game has moved away from placing such hefty demands on players, at least when there isn’t a pandemic.

It would be almost impossible to fit replays into the calendar now and, with the decline in Challenge Cup attendances, no appetite for an extra meeting.

So extra-time in Cup ties is fair enough, though whether golden point is the right way to decide it is another matter.

Sometimes that can come down to the toss of a coin, so set periods of 10 minutes each way might be fairer.

Then again, there’s always a danger of the team that concedes first collapsing, making the rest of extra-time boring and unnecessary.

However it is decided, it is right there is a winner on the day in knockout matches, but the same doesn’t apply to league games.

This is Betfred Super League’s third season with golden point and the innovation, copied from the NRL, has added nothing to the competition. In round one, last weekend, Catalans Dragons beat Hull KR 29-28 thanks to James Maloney’s extra-time drop goal.

But was that really more dramatic than the Robins’ 77th-minute equaliser? They had trailed 28-4 after 50 minutes and deserved to take something from the game. Had it been a Championship match, both teams would have.

Last year, that competition adopted a system under which teams receive a point each if they are level after 80 minutes and the first to score in extra-time gets an additional point. So some matches are worth more points than others, but perhaps that’s reasonable as they are longer.

The Rugby Football League (RFL) have put golden point on hold this year for fear of overloading players during the pandemic but, having different rules for the various divisions makes no sense, even with two governing bodies. Ideally, now Robert Elstone has departed, Super League will get rid of golden point altogether, with the RFL following suit.

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