NRL head of football Graham Annesley has praised Canterbury for their transformation from the worst offenders at trying to slow the play-the-ball in round six to the most compliant team last weekend.
A week after being accused of using spoiling tactics in the ruck during their 14-6 loss to Souths, the Bulldogs played a more open brand of football against North Queensland and secured a 24-12 win at ANZ Stadium last Friday.
The number of play-the-balls taking four seconds or longer by the Cowboys dropped significantly from 38 per cent against the Rabbitohs to just 11 per cent last week.
"That is an unbelievable improvement and because there was a fairly low percentage of play the balls in excess of four seconds, the penalty count was relatively low," Annesley said.
There were 10 penalties in the match, six of which were for infringements in the ruck.
In contrast, Saturday night's match at Tamworth featured 20 penalties - including 12 for ruck infringements – as Wests Tigers were restricted to 38.3 per cent of play-the-balls being four seconds or longer in their 30-14 defeat of Gold Coast.
Graham Annesley weekly football briefing – Round 7
The acceptable limit for play-the-balls of four seconds or more is considered by match officials to be 30 per cent – a figure exceeded by Brisbane (33.3 per cent), Canberra (31.7 per cent), Newcastle (34.9 per cent) and Parramatta (31.4 per cent).
Besides Canterbury, Souths (12.9 per cent), North Queensland (13 per cent), St George Illawarra (14.8 per cent), Sydney Roosters and the Warriors (both 17.9 per cent) were the most compliant teams.
"This week I have had to call out the Titans, with nearly 40 per cent," Annesley said.
"They are in the Bulldogs' territory of last week. The story I think this is showing is that you don't necessary have to delay play-the-balls to win games – the Bulldogs have shown that.
"It was a dramatic improvement and certainly one that is welcomed from our point of view in terms of letting the game flow and allowing teams to build momentum, and for the game to be determined on its merits.
"We don't want to see teams gain an unfair advantage by breaching the rules in this area. If players want to delay the play-the-ball, then penalty counts will rise and there will be a lot more stoppages in and around the play-the-ball."
However, Annesley believes a penalty for a ruck infringement against Warriors forwards Adam Blair and Isaiah Papali'i that enabled the Storm to level the scores at 12-12 in Melbourne on ANZAC Day should have been a scrum.
Annesley said referee Matt Cechin was entitled to award the controversial penalty for crowding in the ruck but his view was that Melbourne captain Cameron Smith had knocked on after Jesse Bromwich attempted to play the ball before he was fully to his feet.
Every try from Round 7
"We've looked at it quite a few times and we think that probably on balance the play-the-ball was too quick before the defence had time to release but you can understand the dilemma the referees had in that you can't play on from this," Annesley said.
"There was a knock on and the referees had to determine whether that has been caused by the ball carrier trying to play the ball before the defenders have had a chance to release or if the defenders have had time to release and they have interfered with the play-the-ball.
"On balance we think that probably a scrum would have been a better outcome but it is very, very difficult to blame the referees for that decision in a split second."