Obstruction rule had to change

The most frustrating thing I’ve seen in the first four rounds of the season has been the new interpretation of the obstruction rule, where any contact made by a decoy runner with a defender was ruled to be a penalty. We have seen some absolutely ridiculous calls and the terrible sight of players taking a dive at the slightest contact. Rugby League has a proud history of being a physical contest full of heavy contact between men who dust themselves off and go again. Any rule that encourages players to fall over or take a dive has to be wrong.

It was a big relief to hear that the interpretation of the rule has been tweaked for the rest of the season. The only time a decoy runner should be penalised is if he makes a hole in the defensive line by making contact with a defender and his teammate then runs the ball through that gap. Of course a player with the ball can’t run around behind one of his own players either, but that’s the old shepherd rule as we once knew and understood it.

I’ll be interested to see how it goes, but one of the good things referees boss Daniel Anderson has been doing this year is bringing former players in as video referees. Players such as Luke Patten who haven’t been out of the game for very long have a better feel for what is going on during decoy plays. Just having a physical knowledge of whether a player was really prevented from making a tackle or was never in the play, makes a big difference in these calls.

The fans haven’t been the only ones frustrated with some of the referees’ calls. Broncos captain Sam Thaiday was rightly upset over a Melbourne Storm try scored off an inside ball while he was being held by the jersey in a scrum. It’s an old move that has been around forever. You call a play on one side of the scrum, you screw the scrum to take the opposition away from what you’re doing and you hold on to as many of them as you can. It was blatantly clear what was happening to Thaiday and a disgrace that the try was awarded. Thaiday has since been banned for one match for touching the referee at the height of his frustration, as he tried to show him what had happened. Touching the ref at any time, for any reason, can’t be tolerated, but it’s a tough call on Thaiday.

The Broncos did well to give the Storm a fright, but I can’t see the Tigers doing the same this week. Tigers coach Mick Potter has put Braith Anasta into the halfback role in an interesting move which was probably brought on by some defensive lapses from Jacob Miller against Manly, last week. Miller wasn’t the sole reason for the thrashing though, the Tigers were awful across the park. I can see more pain ahead for them against the Storm who look just about unstoppable.

The Eels have some real issues right across the park as well, but particularly in the forwards where they seem to lack the size to match it with the other teams. The Roosters forwards just steamrolled over them last week and the Eels had no answers. Ricky Stuart has a long hard season ahead of him, while the Roosters are starting to come together nicely.

The clash between the Bulldogs and South Sydney was real finals style high-class football. Ben Barba showed glimpses of what he can do, but looked a little underdone after his break. He’ll be much sharper this week and he’ll need to be against Manly. It’s a real toss of the coin battle, with Des Hasler and his Bulldogs desperate to add to their only win for the season. Manly are a very tough unit to crack and the Bulldogs will need to be near their best to win. A one win from five games start to the season won’t please Hasler or Bulldogs fans, but I believe they’ll still be there at the end of the year when it counts.

BY ANDREW JOHNS 4 April 2013

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