I CANNOT recall the game of rugby league being in better shape. Crowds are robust, television ratings are soaring, the footy has been great and this season's State of Origin series was arguably the best ever. I still think though our game could be even better.
Over the past week, I have thought long and hard about five things in rugby league we need to change. I don't want to change things simply for the sake of it, but for the NRL to stay fresh and ahead of our rivals.
Refs have been criticised since the first game in Australia back in 1908. Fans jeering referees is as much a part of the footy as a meat pie. But I think we could reduce a lot of the drama currently surrounding referees by reverting back to the system we had in 2010.
That was when we had a dominant referee and then a pocket referee. We introduced the second ref to handle the ruck area due to the grapple tackle fiasco.
Having two refs with equal say - as is the case now - is confusing to the fans and refs themselves. When the policy was to have one ref in control for the majority of the game and a pocket ref assisting, the dominant ref would spend most of his time marking the ten. However I am open to the idea that the pocket ref should monitor the ten metres, while the dominant ref controls the ruck. Whichever way they go with the positioning would be subject to debate, but I think it’s important that we have one ref that is essentially in charge.
Golden point cannot survive the way it is at the moment. I like the theory. I don't want to see a draw but golden point needs modifying. There are no penalties issued during golden point; there is no offside.
It isn't rugby league. It is open slather.
I think the best solution is to play a full ten minutes of extra time. That would change a side's tactics and approach. If a team lands a field goal in the first minute of extra time, fine, but they then have to defend for the next nine minutes. Tries also might become part of a team’s thought process.
Another solution might be to get the referees to actually blow their whistle for any breach of the rules, which would dramatically cut back on half the problems we see in golden point.
We used to employ a 12/4 system which was reduced to 10/4. I would take it one step further and go back to 8/4. Nothing in rugby league over the past 20 years has equalled the impact of interchange. It is a real delicate balancing act where you don't want the game to be too attacking or too defensive.
I just think there are too many interchanges. I don't like the idea of having fresh players running on and off all game. There is no reason for so many players to come off for a rest. Do players really need a breather after just 20 minutes of play?
Reducing the interchange would bring back the gladiatorial side of our game and bring the little man more into play.
STATE OF ORIGIN
Origin games must be moved to stand-alone weekends. I don't think we can continue to put so much physical and emotional strain on our elite players.
I have been talking to some Origin players and they tell you of the incredible impact and toll Origin has on a player.
We then expect them to return to the NRL for eight rounds before another month of finals footy. It is too much.
Clubs get torn apart and fans don't want their team's players getting picked. They know how much it will impact on their side's premiership chances. Manly had one player in Origin last year - Anthony Watmough - and won the comp. Canterbury had one player in Origin this year - and are leading the competition.
Stand-alone games would alleviate all these issues. We have to protect our greatest asset - the players.
I think each NRL club should play one game a season at a country venue.
We keep hearing about how bush footy is bleeding. We need to help them.
I think each club should obtain some financial compensation from the NRL for taking a game to our rural areas.
The impending television broadcast deal will have to be split a million ways. Everyone wants a slice of the pie. But one of the priorities must be country football. We are losing players and teams in the bush. How many of our great players have arrived in Sydney from the country? Thousands.
We can't keep ignoring the cries for help we constantly hear from our struggling bush neighbors.
The views expressed in this article are of the author and don't necessarily reflect those of the NRL.