Sterling Gold: Is momentum too important?
One of the toughest things to do in today's game is to stop momentum.
When one team gets on a roll on the back of a glut of possession it seems nigh impossible to stop the avalanche. At times I'm reminded of the little Dutch boy trying to stop the water flowing through the ever-increasing cracks in the dyke using just his finger.
In recent rounds a number of teams have found themselves in this position and it got me wondering as to whether the game is as equable as it should be over the full 80 minutes.
Up until 1967 rugby league consisted of unlimited tackles, of which the magnificent St George team of that era became true masters. They reigned supreme, winning 11 straight premierships, and made ball control an art form. It has been reported that in one match the opposition did not touch the football for an entire half.
Over the ensuing years the game evolved through the four-tackle rule to the six-tackle sets we have today.
That evolution developed as a result of looking to give teams a more even share of possession and through that the better team would go on to prevail.
There have however been a number of rule changes in the game that have swung the pendulum markedly in favour of the side with the football. What these have done is take away numerous avenues that once existed for the defending team to regain possession.
In other words, opportunities to compete have been lessened.
The play-the-ball was once a mini competition in which the marker could strike at the ball in an effort to win it back.
In my playing days the likes of Ben Elias and Mario Fenech were particularly skilled in this practice and if you weren't vigilant in how you played the ball you would have it stolen.
But the most obvious way in which the game has changed in this area of course is the demise of the scrum as an equal opportunity occasion.
There is little doubt that it was once one of the most contentious areas of the game but I'm not sure that we expected it to become the somewhat farcical event that it has now become.
It is understood that whoever feeds, wins, and is now not much more than a rest for players as they lean in against each other. More often than not there are few actual forwards in this formation.
Being a traditionalist I hope the scrum is always a part of rugby league especially as it is a rare opportunity for backlines to display their attacking ability with 12 players out of the way and room to move. However its role as a contest is long gone.
Stripping of the ball in the tackle is now pretty much a no-go zone, with the success rate of attempting to do so not worth the pursuit.
Successful one-on-one strips are a rarity and even if one defender drops off a tackle and a teammate is able to extract the ball they will still be penalised. Somehow this is still deemed to be two in the tackle, which is quite absurd.
The strip interpretation has taken away a large degree of responsibility that should be borne by the ball-carrier, with loose carries not often receiving the penalty they should through a loss of possession.
Finally throw in the 40/20 kick innovation as another way that the attacking team can retain the ball and you can see the argument of a possible imbalance between having the ball and not.
Now I understand that you must earn the right to have possession but it is relatively easy to get into a vicious cycle in today's game as a result of one error or conceding a try.
It's the catch-22 of the more tackles you are forced to make, the more you are likely to miss and the more fatigued you will be become, which will lead to more errors and ultimately more tackling. By the time you get hold of the football you are too tired to do anything with it.
Round 14 saw two of the biggest comebacks in matches we have seen this year.
In New Zealand the Warriors had been most impressive against the Tigers to open up a 22-4 lead going into the final quarter of the game.
In the 63rd minute Gareth Ellis delivered a miracle flick-pass to Benji Marshall to score and begin their barnstorming finish.
Over the next 10 minutes the Warriors only had the football for one set of six. In fact of the last 13 sets of the game the home side had the ball on three occasions.
Now I'm not saying that the Tigers didn't deserve to win and that their comeback wasn't hugely exciting. What I do question is did the Warriors pay too harsh a price in a 15-minute period of an 80-minute contest?
On the same day in Brisbane an under-strength Broncos had also done a great job to establish a 24-0 lead after an hour.
In the 64th minute the Raiders' Josh Papalli scored the first of his two tries to start the Green Machine's roll. Over an eight-minute period they scored four converted tries to force the game into golden point. During that eight minutes the Broncos did not touch the football.
Fortunately for the Queenslanders Peter Wallace was able to nail an extra-time field goal to enable the side to take full advantage of the good work done over the majority of the afternoon.
I know in these matches that both the Warriors and Broncos should have been able to defend more effectively when under pressure, but I go back to my opening statement that momentum is everything. Especially when the only way to get the football back is from an opposition error or kick.
At the very least I think that when officials, coaches, referees and players get together for the annual off-season 'think tank' that the idea of 'the scoring team kicks off' should be on the table for discussion.