Peter Sterling: Why our strip rule needs an overhaul

Any rule that penalises a player for doing his job is a bad one.<br><br>Any rule that consistently frustrates fans and players alike, is a bad one.<br><br>That is why for season 2011 there must be an alteration to the current stripping rule.<br><br>Every weekend there are decisions made in this area that change the course of matches and, in many cases, determine the actual result. Too many of them are the harshest of calls on defenders with not enough emphasis placed on the responsibility of the ball carrier.<br><br>At the moment a tackler is allowed to “steal” the football if he is in a one-on-one situation with the man in possession. If another defender becomes involved and makes any contact then any action to strip the ball becomes illegal.<br><br>The first absurdity that must be discarded is when one of these players loses significant contact with the ball carrier.<br><br>Logic says that if a tackler drops off or is playing no real role in completing the tackle then he should not be acknowledged as still being involved.<br><br>At the moment he is counted, despite the fact he may not even be holding the attacker or has the merest of grasps. There is no way he should be deemed to be having an influence once he ceases to be part of the hands-on action.<br><br>We saw a perfect example last weekend when Parramatta’s Matt Keating was penalised for a “two man” steal on the Tigers' Chris Heighington.<br><br>Early in the crucial clash the busy back-rower hit the ball up, brushing past Justin Horo before being confronted by Keating. In the head-on confrontation the ball was dislodged by the Eels hooker who was penalised because of the ridiculous notion that Horo was still part of the tackle.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=860&amp;fixtureid=50020102407&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=penaltyconceded&amp;period=1&amp;time=506" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see the Keating penalty now.</a><br><br>The look of confusion on Matt’s face summed up the feelings of many.<br><br>In introducing the new interpretation in 1991, officials were trying to avoid attacking players being ganged up on and having the ball taken away through sheer weight of numbers.&nbsp; &nbsp;<br><br>Ironically, it is generally accepted that it was one of our more diminutive champions in Allan Langer who necessitated the change. Such was Alf’s expertise at pick-pocketing his opponents in tackles that it was determined to be an unfair practice.<br><br>Ultimately the game is paying the price for an overreaction in which two important components have been overlooked.<br><br>Firstly, the responsibility of a rugby league defender is to not only stop the progress of the opposing attacker but also the football. That means contact with the ball will be made with hands and arms and sometimes that contact will see the ball come loose.<br><br>This will not always be as a result of a deliberate strip, but an ineffective and unsatisfactory carry.<br><br>Secondly, and in direct relation to point one, if a player has the correct hold on a football and has it positioned in the right way to his body then it is extremely difficult to remove.<br><br>Many players today have poor ball security because they never pay the price for doing so.<br><br>In the high drama at the end of the Tigers/Eels clash, the late penalty awarded to the home side (that could have sent the game into extra time) has virtually been overlooked.<br><br>Again it involved Chris Heighington who was penalised for stripping Feleti Mateo. Also involved in the tackle were Wests forwards Liam Fulton and Keith Galloway.<br><br>There’s no doubt there were three involved in putting Mateo to the ground but despite Heighington’s hand being on the football, there was no way he intentionally raked it.<br><br>In fact, if Feleti had been carrying the ball in the crook of his arm and not in the palm of his hand at the front of his body, the ball would not have come out despite Heighington’s attention.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=860&amp;fixtureid=50020102407&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=penaltyconceded&amp;period=2&amp;time=2531" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see this contentious strip penalty now.</a><br><br>It was a huge call which could have cost the Tigers the game. <br><br>In the same fashion, such a decision looked certain to cost Cronulla victory against North Queensland in golden point in Round 16.<br><br>In making a tackle with Paul Gallen and Anthony Tupou on Willie Mason, John Morris was penalised for a strip when again it appeared to be a loose carry by the Cowboys forward.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=852&amp;fixtureid=50020101604&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=penaltyconceded&amp;period=3&amp;time=282" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see the strip penalty against Morris.</a><br><br>I still wonder whether it’s coincidence or maybe a small amount of football justice that both Johnathan Thurston and Luke Burt missed absolute sitters by their standards after such contentious calls.<br><br>What I would prefer to see is a return to defenders being able to play at the football if there are two in the tackle. Obviously, if the tackle is deemed to be completed or the referee has called held and a strip occurs then it would be penalised.<br><br>That would see the likes of Timana Tahu’s tackle on Beau Ryan (again in last weekend’s clash) called as “play on” instead of penalised. In this case, as it would be on so many other occasions, it would have resulted in six more tackles for the attacking team as Beau recovered the loose ball.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=860&amp;fixtureid=50020102407&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=penaltyconceded&amp;period=1&amp;time=138" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see this strip ruling now.</a><br><br>We would see scrums set and sometimes the attacking team getting the ball if their strip wasn’t a knock-on. All preferable to inappropriate penalties.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;<br><br>When there are three or more legitimate defenders, and there is an obvious raking of the football, again this would be pulled up by the referee. But only if the officials have seen the breach and not on the assumption that because of the numbers in the tackle the ball must have been removed illegally.<br><br>The opening penalty of the Manly/Warriors game is a good example with Brent Tate deliberately taking the football with James Maloney, Simon Mannering and Russell Packer all in attendance.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=860&amp;fixtureid=50020102403&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=penaltyconceded&amp;period=1&amp;time=47" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see an obvious example of a correct strip penalty.</a>