More refs, more interchanges?

The push to reduce the number of interchanges in rugby league looks set to stall as a result of the increase in speed of play brought on by the new two-referees system.<br><br>While many have been hoping the game would in time head back to the “war-of-attrition days” in regards to interchange, the increase in pace of play will influence changes to any replacement system going forward.<br><br>Rugby league’s interchange system has evolved many times over the 101-year existence of the sport in this country, ranging from no replacements to unlimited changes, but with the first two rounds of NRL football being played at a frenetic pace, the push to bring down the number of changes could be waning.<br><br>Prior to the 2008 season, club coaches agreed to reduce the number of changes per side from 12 to 10 – with the belief that number could be reduced further in time for the 2011 season should its impact on the game improve the spectacle.<br><br>“It’s only been two rounds but in relation to the speed of the game so far I’d be reluctant to bring the number of changes down any further,” South Sydney coach Jason Taylor told NRL.com. <br><br>“I really think we’d be jeopardising the place in the game of some of the players who do play a little less time. I understand looking after the smaller players, but they’re doing okay with how it is now.<br><br>“I know these things will be discussed by the game’s powerbrokers and coaches but I can’t see the majority of coaches supporting further reduction.”<br><br>Panthers skipper Petero Civoniceva admits having two referees has put greater strain on the players and warns further reduction could see rugby league lose its balance between attack and defence.<br><br>The veteran prop isn’t looking to return to the days of unlimited changes, instead he believes the league may have found the perfect system.<br><br>“I think the agenda to bring the changes down might stall now. The games so far this year have been extremely quick as it is and I can’t see how limiting the changes or bringing them down to eight would help the game,” he explains. <br><br>“The difference in speed this year is really noticeable. I spoke to the boys after the game on Saturday night and we all felt the same. It was played at breakneck speed and there wasn’t the down-time and breaks we’d become accustomed to from years past. You used to be able to get a little bit of a rest in stoppages but now it’s a constant high speed throughout the 80 minutes.<br><br>“If you did bring the number down you are going to have a lot more fatigued players out there which doesn’t necessarily translate to more exciting football. The game is okay at the moment, the players are handling the pace brought about by the two referees and you are seeing some great games of football. <br><br>“If it was changed then the back end of halves could become games of touch football and I don’t think anyone is interested in seeing that.”<br><br>Adding further weight against reduction are safety issues. Several NRL teams have been utilising GPS units, with results showing amazing amounts of physical output. Their conclusion is that adding further strain could push the limits of the human body.<br><br>When the decision was taken to reduce interchanges from 12 to 10, well-respected former Australian team doctor Hugh Hazard was vehemently against the change.<br><br>“I’m against any reducing of the number of changes – the whole purpose of bringing interchanges in was to alleviate the pressure on players with injuries and allow for you to cover for this,” Hazard said.<br><br>“If you reduce the number you put pressure on players and coaches to battle on hurt. There is an attrition rate in this game that we must be aware of when having these discussions and safety of players must be paramount. <br><br>“We don’t want to go back to the days where we end up with 11-on-12 players because people are hurt, or situations where we have injured players playing on because the team will be short on numbers – it’s a time bomb waiting to go off.”<br><br>Civoniceva admits numerous players already play with injuries and ailments. The pressure to play is significantly high and unless players have injuries such as broken bones they are expected to give their all for the team. <br><br>“Players already play when they’re not 100 per cent and if you were to carry a bit of flu or some other niggle into a game you are even more vulnerable now,” Civoniceva says.<br><br>“You are physically pushing the thresholds and to send guys over the edge would be the last thing we would want.”<br><br>NRL Chief Operating Officer Graham Annesley confirmed the interchange system would be discussed at season’s end.<br><br>“We told the clubs we would discuss it again at the end of 2009, looking forward to changes in 2011,” Annesley says. <br><br>“We made it clear we wouldn’t change anything for this season and 2010, as the clubs and coaches need time to adjust to any major changes like that. They’d need time to buy different players and change their approach.<br><br>“Obviously we have to see the impact of the two-referees system over time and clearly consider any implications there are going forward. <br><br>“Safety is just one of many considerations when looking at change of interchange system and it would be looked at by all involved when the time comes. Any decision wouldn’t be taken lightly.”<br>