HomeSportKent: NRL’s best weapon to trump coaches’ dirty tricks

Kent: NRL’s best weapon to trump coaches’ dirty tricks


So it happened this week when the old gunslinger Wayne Bennett narrowed his eyes with no noticeable strain and dared the NRL to stand up to the clubs in a way Bennett would never allow to happen to him.“I’d like to see the game take the clubs on instead of putting band-aids on them,” he said.Stream every game of every round of the 2022 NRL Telstra Premiership Season Live & Ad-Break Free During Play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-days free now.It was part of a broader radio interview where he took on the complaints over Victor Radley’s concussion and, equally as farcical, Jeremy Marshall-King’s apparent concussion injury.In the first, Radley was forced off after the bunker doctor decided he was concussed and needed to leave the field and the Roosters later claimed it was no concussion at all, but a neck injury that kept Radley down.In the second, Marshall-King suffered what appeared to be a shoulder injury but the Bulldogs put him through a variety of concussion tests, decided he had a concussion, then got a free interchange after a tremendous rest.“These guys are trained to recover in two or three minutes, and they can go again, and that’s what they bought,” Bennett said of the Bulldogs’ ploy. “They bought three or four minutes from this facade of making out someone was knocked out when there wasn’t.”Bennett is without a game to coach this weekend for the first time in almost 50 years, so it afforded us a rare insight of a coach revealing the unspoken truth of coaching; for years coaches have bastardised the rules in pursuit of a competitive advantage.Instead of outlawing it, penalising it or sin-binning the architects of it, the game instead put the band-aids on. Outwitted by the coaches.It was allowed to evolve by small degrees until it got to a point like now where, for just one example, the game is poisoned with a wrestling epidemic that is now so ingrained kids as young as 10 are being taught to catch, hold and wrestle.The play-the-ball got so bad we’re now trying to teach the game’s elite how to play-the-ball properly.Concussions are greater than ever, perhaps because old tackling styles where protecting the head was always the first priority are gone now and tacklers are instead taught to stay upright and catch, leaving the head vulnerable.To Bennett’s point, there is a simple solution to all this but the game has never had the courage to do it. Instead, it always tried to massage the outcome in the bid to keep everybody happy, which is impossible in this game called rugby league.A new rule was overturned for this season because teams figured out last year that it was more beneficial to concede a six again after a kick chase, as the slow play-the-ball allowed them to properly set their defence, and to then dominate the set, than it was to behave and get off the tackled player.So this year the infringement was restored to a penalty.A new ploy seemed to emerge Thursday night, though, just a fortnight into the new season.Melbourne led 14-4 and Souths were coming.The Daily Telegraph NRL Podcast – PlaylistThe Storm was doing all it could to hold its defensive line.A ball found the ground and referee Gerard Sutton called a scrum 10m out from the Storm tryline. The Storm apparently got confused at this. Admittedly, scrummaging ain’t what it used to be, so much less time is afforded to its practice than it once was, but the Storm’s confusion was so basic they could not pack six men into the scrum before the shot clock buzzed.Penalty Souths.In the commentary box, Andrew Voss got confused.“Were they just wasting time?”Greg Alexander was beside him and knew exactly what was happening.“To get more players in the defensive line,” he said.A scrum immediately takes six players out of the defence, creating space in the defensive line. But if you have to defend from a penalty instead of scrum, well, then all 13 can defend the tryline.Having got away with that once, Melbourne continued the practice.“Justin, Justin,” Sutton yelled at Justin Olam, up shaking hands with the Souths attack.Olam was offside, then a six-again was given when Josh King and Kenny Bromwich were offside.Jesse Bromwich was warned.“That’s a couple on the bounce,” Sutton told him.But Olam called Sutton’s bluff and got offside again and was finally sent to the sin-bin.Was the scrum penalty a professional foul, or simple confusion from the Storm?It is hard to imagine a team as well-drilled as Melbourne would get confused over something so basic.Will it become the new ploy? And if so, what will the NRL do about it?The simple answer is to use the sin-bin but the game, for too long bluffed by the coaches, is afraid to do so.Some years back the sin-bin became a dirty word because coaches found a way to convince the League to reduce its use. Not by going through the front door, they don’t operate that way.Instead, over time coaches convinced everybody the reason they lost was because they were a man down after a player was binned.DT tipsOnce his player was sin-binned, the coach complained, his team didn’t have a chance.It scared the NRL into reducing its use. And coaches took advantage of it, to the point now where some absurd rules are in place, where it is more beneficial to break the rules and concede a penalty, or six again, then it is to play by the rules, because the coaches know there are rarely consequences.The only way back is to use the sin-bin, the underused weapon, for what are essentially professional fouls.It already exists in the rule book but not enough referees are getting supported to call the professional foul for what it is, a transgression designed to gain an advantage.Now that Bennett has turned gunslinger and revealed the behind the scenes tricks the coaches use, though, the game has no excuse not to step in.It would be a waste of a perfectly good squint if nothing was done.SHORT SHOTThe distorted pressure on elite sporting coaches, and how narrow their focus can be, was never better illustrated than the bizarre press conference that Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge gave after Wednesday’s loss to Melbourne. Just weeks ago, Beveridge was revealing himself as a worldly man at their season launch, one aware of the world and football’s small place in it. “In these times where we’re processing the inherent effects of Covid, its uncertain legacy and the future, the uncertainty about the environment, the carbon footprint worldwide and now the atrocity of the Russian advancement on Ukraine, there are questions we ask of ourselves,” he told the audience. “What kind of person am I? And what would I do if I could influence some of these significant events that will threaten our futures?” By Wednesday, Beveridge was attacking Fox Sports reporter Tom Morris, throwing around phrases like “gutter journalism” and accusing him of “causing turmoil” within his club. Morris’ great sin, not his only one for the week, admittedly, was he revealed Lachie Hunter wasn’t going to play. In the scheme of things, it was such small news that really only SuperCoach players got excited about it. With the hysteria turned down, though, it reveals the pressure coaches are under and how poorly they can sometimes handle the scrutiny, and how quickly perspective is lost. Penrith coach Ivan Cleary spoke on NRL 360 this week of the loneliness that can be felt as a coach, even in a room full of assistants, and supported the idea of coaches having access to professional help. Sometimes we need to walk in other’s shoes, as Beveridge might have once said, too.

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