The day after he wrote an entire newspaper column about the subject, Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart admitted: “... the obstruction rule will probably be fixed before us.”
To be fair, Stuart was sporting a wry smile when he made the statement. But his side had just been lapped 50-0 by Sydney Roosters and, judging by comments from NRL referees coach Daniel Anderson, the rule interpretation everyone is talking about will be addressed after the representative weekend on April 19-21.
Chances are though that the Eels will still be struggling then.
“I took the job on and I knew it was probably going to be a mountain of a job,” said Stuart, as part of his chat with radio station Triple M late on Monday.
“It’s going to be. It’s going take a number of seasons to get this right. I feel sorry for our supporters. We can all think ‘we should be doing this and should be doing that and winning’.
“But there’s evidence there tonight that we haven’t got a roster that’s up to a lot of the rosters. It’s going to be a tough year and I said that at the start of the year.”
Over the first month of the NRL season there has also been evidence that some squads are simply much stronger than others. The overall salary cap increase from $4.4 million to $5.85 million (including a hike in the marquee player allowance) has allowed powerful clubs to hold on to big names and forced struggling teams to pay “overs” for mid-range players.
St George Illawarra (25-12 over Cronulla on Saturday) and the Warriors (20-18 over North Queensland on Monday) secured their first wins in Round 4 – which means we still have far fewer stragglers than most other professional sporting competitions worldwide.
“There’s a couple of standout sides and the rest are trying to chase them and catch them and stick with them,” was the observation from Gold Coast coach John Cartwright, his side one of the better-performed “chasers”.
And there is little to suggest perceived inequalities had any detrimental effect on attendances, given the bumper Easter weekend with crowds of 51,686, 40,071 and 20,130 after a somewhat sluggish opening month.
The resurgence in live interest is perfectly timed in that the Bulldogs take on Manly and Gold Coast hosts Brisbane this Friday – two fixtures bound to attract bumper crowds.
“It’s a genuine local derby and I think there is a dislike there between Brisbane and Gold Coast people,” continued Cartwright.
Co-captain Greg Bird added: “I come from Cronulla and there was a big brother-little brother thing with St George. I think it’s the same thing.”
While success and entertainment are seen as the most important commodities being chased by spectators, Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson has identified a third: security.
Robinson, who followed Cronulla as a kid, believes fans want to be able to trust their team not to concede a try while they’re at the bar or toilet – and it’s something his men were able to give 18,014 raucous Rooster-boosters on Monday.
“Fans want to see some exciting attack but they also want to be proud of their team and they want to see them defend well and feel safe with the way they defend and the pressure they put on teams,” Robinson said.
“It’s nice for the Roosters fans to get some joy out of tonight and hopefully we see more and more coming down.”
Regardless of this weekend’s attendances or results, chances are we’ll still have the obstruction rule to argue about this time next week.
“It’s like being picked up by a Random Breath Test and them guessing whether you’re over or under (the alcohol limit),” says Stuart.
At least on the roads, as of today, it’s not double demerit points anymore.
BEST OF ROUND 4: That record-breaking crowd of 51,686 at ANZ Stadium on Friday. Y’all come back now!
WORST OF ROUND 4: The looks on the faces of Parramatta fans, players and staff after being whipped 50-0.
WEIRDEST OF ROUND 4: Sydney Roosters hooker Jake Friend takes an intercept – and briefly starts setting off towards his own try line before performing a 180-degree about-face.
‘CLEVEREST’ OF ROUND 4: Bryan Norrie holding Sam Thaiday in the scrum so Billy Slater had an unimpeded run to the line.
WHAT I HEARD: Gorden Tallis’ fascinating account of being benched by Wayne Bennett for his last game, on radio on Friday.
QUOTE OF THE WEEKEND: “Some of these guys from the Gold Coast look like they should be modelling or something – Brenton (Laurence) and his little mate Kane Lawton... they were always getting around with their gear off.” – Manly’s Brent Kite on a couple of his new team-mates.