The NRL must be relieved that the Australian cricket team has been making all the headlines this week for the ball tampering fiasco – rather than the media focussing its attention on the significant salary cap breaches that Manly has achieved over the past five years.
The attempted cheating or gaining an advantage has been at the forefront of professional sports for decades – and rugby league has been guilty of this forever – as most teams will strive to win the premiership title at nearly any cost.
The seriousness of the Manly situation has highlighted the lengths that officials, player managers and players are prepared to go to enhance their ability to earn additional income by accepting dubious, unregistered 3rd party payments – which have become a huge blight on the game in recent years.
A quick review has revealed at least three other clubs Parramatta, Melbourne and the Bulldogs have all been caught cheating the system, since the inception of the NRL in 1998.
Despite the mayhem, damage to their reputations and the game’s image – some clubs are still prepared to take unnecessary risks to become successful.
It would appear that the more sophisticated and wealthier clubs are able to recruit the best players available and retain their best players – while working within the ‘very loose’ interpretation of 3rd party payments system, which gives them a superior advantage over the less connected clubs in the game.
A serious “investigation” of the registered and unregistered 3rd party payments is required to gain greater clarity of the current system’s shortcomings– along with the introduction of a player draft to give the lower placed teams a chance to bid for the top draft picks (as the AFL have done very successfully over time) – is required urgently to seriously even up the competition in future.
Cowboys, Rabbits, Storm, Roosters, Sea Eagles, Dragons, Broncos, Wests Tigers
The referees have been copping a hammering in the opening three weeks for their inflexible approach to the 10 metres and blowing a record number of penalties in the opening three weeks.
Together with playing the ball with the foot (a rule introduced in 1908) and players leaving the defensive line early – these are the two main issues creating confusion amongst the referees and the players.
My observation of keeping a genuine 10m is where the referees and the game is coming unstuck. I have reviewed the 1st three rounds (via Eagle Cam) and it is clear that the referees are keeping the defensive teams back at least 12 or 13 metres on each play.
Given the faster nature of the game and our players being much faster, stronger and more powerful to cover distance with the football – the referees are giving the attacking teams a much greater advantage to advance the football and play the ball more quickly.
This means it is nearly impossible for the defensive team to stop their momentum because they are being ‘held’ longer and further back – which makes it difficult to ‘win’ tackles and control the ruck consistently.
The ability for teams to cover more distance on every play and get back in the line before the attacking team starts advancing is causing some lopsided penalty counts in games – including two 50 point floggings in the opening three rounds.
There is a lack of understanding by the referees of how hard the game is physically and a complete lack of discretion or judgment on when penalties are being awarded.
Hopefully, some common sense prevails soon – because the flow and momentum of games is getting tough to watch.
We can expect to see a much improved performance by the Cowboys tonight against the Panthers tonight in Townsville.
My spies tell me that the great Jonathon Thurston was extremely disappointed with the way he and his play team played against the Storm in the much anticipated Grand Final rematch.
It was Michael Morgan’s first game back last week and I am tipping him and JT to play a lot better against the Panthers who will be without their star halfback Nathan Cleary for at least six weeks.
The other game that has attracted my interest is the high flying Dragons who have the best attack and the 3rd best defence after three rounds as they prepare to take on the Knights at WIN Stadium on Sunday.
Despite the hype in the lead up - the Knights could not handle the power running and execution of the Roosters attack last week.
The Knights will need to be a lot stronger in their first contact in defence against the powerful St George forwards to get their team back on track.
It is hard not get excited by the combination of Ben Hunt and Garreth Widdop who have developed an uncanny understanding with each other so quickly and created some brilliant tries for their team against the Titans last week.