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Canterbury take on North Queensland.

The "scrum-enchanted evenings" that legendary coach and scribe Roy Masters once wrote of are unlikely to ever return to the NRL.

But one of 2020's largely unheralded rule changes does appear to be bringing back a rugby union-esque view of scrums as a genuine try-scoring opportunity.

The legitimate contest for possession of yesteryear won't return, but the relevance of scrums in the modern game just might.

Across five rounds in 2020 nine tries have been scored directly from scrums at a rate of 0.23 per game, or three every fortnight of NRL.

That's all but double the prevalence of scrum-based tries of last year, and even in a regular season reduced to 20 games by COVID-19, is tracking to surpass the 30 tries from scrums scored in 2018.

Before the NRL went back to one referee, and forward to a six-again ruling for ruck infringements, the game decreed that in 2020 scrums could be set either 10 or 20 metres in from the sideline, or right in the centre.

Last weekend the Cowboys engineered a try for Justin O'Neill from an attacking scrum and the Sharks did likewise for Sione Katoa, while the week previous Parramatta did the same.

Five-eighth Dylan Brown shifted to the wing, allowing bigger bodies in Michael Jennings and Maika Sivo to punch through Manly's defence before offloading for Brown to cross untouched, because as Brad Arthur put it afterwards "they're hard to defend those 50-50 scrums".

The '50-50' Arthur refers to is the splitting of attacking players on either side of the scrum if it is positioned centre field, where each of this year's nine scrum-based tries were born.

Katoa crosses from the scrum

Key to the new scrum rule actually opening up try-scoring has been the officiating of it.

As Masters reported following this year's pre-season fixtures, NRL head of football Graham Annesley issued a memo to all clubs after players broke from scrums noticeably early to best defence the new attacking opportunities.

Annesley warned that a revamp of the rules could see penalty goals awarded for early scrum breaks in March, but has since been pleased with the compliance of defensive teams.

"Referees are aware that one of the ways teams try to negate the uncertainty of defending from scrums is to break early, and so they're alert to that and encouraging players to stay in scrums," Annesley told

"We've seen penalties for breaking early this year, so it's something that's constantly monitored. There's no specific crackdown.

"We are seeing tries from scrums which have been pretty rare over recent seasons. And hopefully that trend continues."

Storm still marvel at Smith's game

Melbourne, meanwhile, are one club that has been delaying the ball's release from scrums, and in turn keeping the defence honest, by trapping the ball at their lock's feet before shovelling it out to the backs.

But across the game coaches seem to be warming more and more to the opportunities created from lineouts and scrums in rugby union, where players like Latrell Mitchell can line up one-on-one with a defender.

"I think all teams are working on how best to use that to their advantage," Souths livewire Damien Cook,  said.

"I even like having the scrum right out on the 10-metre line, just getting all the backs out there and seeing them put on some shapes.

"It gives them a chance to play some footy and it is a little bit like rugby union.

"It's definitely added to the game for sure."

Not since Tim Sheens last coached in the NRL, back in 2012, has a coach consistently looked to scrums as a chance to run outright scoring plays.

But his influence from more than 700 first grade games as coach may just endure.

It was Sheens who first pushed for scrums to move in-field 20 metres in late-1993, arguing that the shift would create blindside attacking chances from one of rugby league's last remaining set-pieces.

Paul Green, whose Cowboys have scored twice from scrum plays in five games this year, played under Sheens two decades ago at North Queensland, as did Trent Robinson and John Morris (Tigers), while Ricky Stuart and Craig Bellamy go back to the late 80s in their association with Canberra's only title-winning coach.

"It just gives you a bit more of a chance to think about attacking opportunities, whether or not it is looking at opposition's weaknesses or playing to your strengths," Green said when asked about the scrum rule on Tuesday.

"Given you can pick where and how you want the scrum to start I think coaches are probably spending a bit more time on it."

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