Adam ‘Mad Dog’ MacDougall has joined Big League magazine as a weekly columnist and is being let Off The Leash on the hot topics in rugby league. For Round 1 he looks at the rule changes for 2014 and why it’s a good thing for the game.
I am super excited about the start of the new NRL season now the rules have changed, as most rugby league fans would be too.
I can honestly say this was not the case last season.
As a player who had only recently retired from the game after 17 years, my lack of excitement was not about the game that had been so great to me, but rather the way the game was being played by many teams and trends that had been developing over the past several years.
I felt robotic athletes were replacing footballers and that often teams that won football games were the best wrestlers, not necessarily the best footballers.
My last few years of playing I would go to training and practise wrestling moves, finishing a session feeling more like a WWE professional than a professional footballer. In games I would have to run the ball out of dummy-half rather than steaming onto the ball like my heroes – Mal Meninga, ET, Steve Renouf – had done in the past.
Why had this happened? Well, the game had become about slowing up the ruck and to do this effectively it became about getting numbers in the tackle and mastering the art of wrestling.
So I was relieved and excited when the NRL announced they were going to speed up the game and protect the welfare of players this season through changes like restarts with zero tackle from the ball being kicked dead and a tap off 40/20 kicks.
The NRL Nines tournament in Auckland was awesome. It had the fans and players buzzing about rugby league again and the style of football was fast, up-tempo and less structured. It highlighted the talent we have, like Shaun Johnson, James Tamou, Ben Barba and Brett Morris, to name a few.
Last year it was great to see the Roosters play a style of football that was unique. It allowed them to overcome the opposition’s attempts to slow down their powerful and skilful forward pack and their fast, small supporting runners. All rugby league fans, myself included, will be hoping the Roosters will adapt well to these rule changes, resulting in an even faster style of football.
The one guarantee is that it will be a more exciting game to watch with less stoppages and a much faster tempo, and more importantly a much safer game for the players.
Bring on 2014.
• MacDougall, Kevin Walters and Anthony Minichiello join Big League alongside former columnists Greg Alexander and Brendan Cowell this season. Read Walters’s insight into the importance of a good start in the Big League Round 1 issue – on sale now at newsagents everywhere and at all NRL games.