ANDREW JOHNS – NINEMSN COLUMN

OBSTRUCTION MESS HAS TO BE FIXED

BY Andrew Johns August 23, 2012

So much has happened in rugby league this week, but the obstruction rule sticks out like the sorest of thumbs and something has to be done about it now. It has become such a complicated part of the game that no one can be sure which way any decision will go. Only one person watching last Friday night’s game thought that Jonathan Wright scored a legitimate try for the Bulldogs against the Tigers and he has been sacked because of it.

People keep saying a mistake in interpreting this rule will one day cost a team a big game. Well this year we’ve seen a State of Origin series lost because of it and now Wests Tigers have just about had their season ended, so I don’t know how much bigger than that you can get.

You only have to remember back to when you were eight years old playing with your mates in the back yard to realise it’s not that difficult. If you or any of your mates ran behind your own player while carrying the ball everyone would stop and yell “shepherd!” It was that simple.

Every club these days runs decoys and blocking plays, mostly aimed at the edge of the ruck around where the centres and halves defend. They are designed to make the defence commit to the wrong player and by doing so, open up gaps for the attacking team to exploit. A few years back officials felt they had to fiddle with the rules to allow these plays to be effective. If a defender made a mistake and tackled a decoy then it was his error, the attacking team had succeeded and shouldn’t be punished.

It was still accepted that a player in possession couldn’t run behind one of these decoys. Then they started talking about the distance between the decoy and the ball carrier and making it a judgement call. They ended up inserting a clause which virtually says anything goes as long as the video referee believes the defence wasn’t unfairly impeded. That clause has to go and some black and white has to return to the obstruction rule, so that fans and players can be sure about what is going on out there.

Obstruction uncertainty aside, the game has never been better and the new broadcast rights deal shows just how valuable it has become. Of course I’m happy that Nine won the rights – it will save me from having to start a lawn mowing business, for a few more years anyway. But what really excites me about this injection of money is the potential to grow our great game and to reward those who have made it to the top level. The game in country areas needs an injection of funds and junior clubs everywhere need more money. Make no mistake we are in a war with the other codes, led by AFL, for the loyalty of our juniors. The AFL has been splashing its broadcast deal cash around, now it’s rugby league’s turn to catch up and fight back.

Our best players need to be justly rewarded for lifting the game to the level where it currently stands. Superstars like Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater deserve to be on $1 million contracts, but just as importantly their teammates all deserve a pay rise. The minimum first grade wage has to increase so that these guys are given what they so clearly earn all week at training and during the 80 minutes each weekend. I’ve said before – it’s a short, tough career and apart from the media and coaching there aren’t that many avenues open to players when they hang up the boots.

You only have to look at how hotly contested Ricky Stuart’s New South Wales job was, by so many strong applicants. The chance to remain involved in the game at the highest level, while working towards ending Queensland’s stranglehold is obviously very attractive and I think any one of the guys who put their hands up would have been capable of doing a great job. I know how disappointed Brad Fittler was to miss out. I’m confident that Laurie Daley will be a great coach for New South Wales, having worked with him in his role as Country coach. He said after the appointment that he hoped to continue Stuart’s good work and if they keep the same support staff and ground work, I’m sure the Blues won’t be far off a series victory.

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