Round 16 of the NRL was a mixed affair with atrocious conditions and some very ordinary refereeing calls keeping everyone guessing.
Read on as we take a look back at some of the biggest hits and misses of the weekend.
The ridiculous rule that just keeps on giving
A "six again" call has cost Canberra a late chance of leveling the scores and forcing golden point extra time against the Dragons in a wet and wild Wollongong clash. With the clock ticking down and the Dragons hanging on by the skin of their teeth, halfback Ben Hunt threw himself into the ruck, five metres out from his own line, to use up time as the Raiders scrambled to launch an attacking play. Such a cynical act, right in front of the posts, would have been punished by a free kick and a certain two points to the Raiders. But, no, we now have a referee calling "six again" with eight seconds left on the clock - game over, Dragons win.
The problem when you introduce rules that go against the fundamentals of a game is that you risk changing that game in ways that will eventually have people wondering if there was any real value in doing so. We now have people pushing to change the way the rule is implemented, after already having it altered for infringements inside a team's own 40 metres. There has to come a time when someone at the top will realise that the rule itself is the problem.
The whole reason we count tackles in rugby league is that each team is given six opportunities to do something with the ball, before the other team has a turn. It is why rugby league moved away from unlimited tackles, you know, back when the same club could win 11 premierships in a row.
The defence has to find the desperation to repel the attacking team for six tackles. If they break the rules in doing so, you penalise them, the attacking team can choose to take two points or kick for territory and go again with another six tackles. If the defending team continues to transgress, you send a player to the sin bin and they suffer that way. The referee explains the reason for each penalty and sin binning as he goes and everyone understands what is happening. There was already enough of a deterrent in the existing rules, if used properly.
The "six again" rule makes it way too easy for a referee to decide a game, without any true accountability. Calling one after the other without any examination or explanation, while giving an attacking team a greater chance of scoring and completely knocking the stuffing out of the team that gives everything trying to hold them out. The more exhausted they are, the more likely they are to transgress and the cycle continues until the game is over before halftime.
Now we find an example where the rule has damaged an attacking team's chance of justice. You have to ask yourself, has the game really improved since this rule was introduced?
- Darren Arthur
When 'protecting the kicker' goes too far
In the 55th minute of Saturday night's crunch game between the Rabbitohs and Eels, Parramatta forward Isaiah Papali'i was penalised and put on report for pressuring the kicker -- in this case, Souths halfback Lachlan Ilias. Ilias was sent tumbling as his kick sailed downfield, with the Rabbitohs receiving a penalty where the ball landed. Eels skipper Clint Gutherson voiced his displeasure with the decision with referee Ben Cummins, and he had a point.
Papali'i was penalised for pushing a player who still had the ball in his hands.
The NRL has cracked down in recent times on defenders making late contact with kickers, and with good reason -- it's not possible for a player to brace themselves for contact a split second after kicking a ball. But in this case Papali'i actually made contact with Ilias before he had kicked it, bringing into question whether players are now simply untouchable as soon as they decide to kick.
The penalty was awarded on the basis Papali'i's contact was dangerous, rather than late, but his light push of the Rabbitohs halfback was much less forceful than most tackles that take place during an NRL game. There's some argument that it's a penalty because the contact was a "push" rather than a tackle, but it's hard to imagine a push being penalised in any other context (defenders push ball-carriers over the sideline all the time, especially in try-scoring situations).
Again, the idea behind these penalties comes from a good place (protecting the safety of kickers) but are defenders now not allowed to make any contact with a player who is about to start a kicking motion? If the trend continues it could become a smart play for playmakers to either take dives after a kick or just fake a kick and then run past the nearest defender -- safe in the knowledge that defenders could be penalised if they make contact with them.
- Dominic Brock
Cowboys too good but Cobbo shines at the back
There wasn't too much joy for the Broncos in Saturday night's 40-26 loss to Queensland rivals the Cowboys, but they did get a promising glimpse of the future in the form of fullback-in-waiting Selwyn Cobbo.
The Maroons winger was switched to the back when Te Maire Martin left the field injured after 28 minutes, and his impact in attack was terrific.
The 20-year-old finished the game with three line breaks, nine tackle busts and one sneaky try, with the kind of sharp footwork and blistering speed that could make him one of the game's superstars in the years to come.
For their part the Cowboys continued their sublime season, with Cobbo's fellow Maroons rookie Murray Tualagi scoring twice, Reece Robson grabbing his fourth try in as many weeks from dummy-half, Scott Drinkwater producing a couple of assists and Jason Taumalolo crashing his way 162 metres with five tackle breaks.
- Dominic Brock