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NRL Real or Not: Meddling is turning the game to garbage

This week we take a look at how too many rule changes have resulted in the game being a mess, the likelihood of the Eels letting their fans down again and the two best players in the competition.

Read on as we tackle some of the big talking points in the latest edition of NRL Real or Not.


Too much meddling is turning the game to garbage

REAL: Old timers have been yelling at the clouds for years about this; if you keep meddling with the very fabric of what makes rugby league great, you risk breaking it completely. We may have reached that point during Sunday's sensational finals clash between the Rabbitohs and Roosters.

Some time back they decided that fighting was not good for the image of the game, so they banned punching. Now, instead of grown men occasionally sorting out issues with a flurry of punches, before getting on with the game, we have a running series of high shots and push and shove battles. The referee's only response is to destroy the game further by sending player after player to the sin bin, often for trivial incidents.

They also introduced a bunker to get more decisions right. However, captains are only allowed to make one incorrect challenge per game, while there is no limit on the number of mistakes the officials can make. We now have every try examined in minute detail and still they manage to mess some of those calls up.

Now we have players stopping the game themselves in order to allow the bunker to review the tackle just made on them. Usually because they have felt some contact with their head of the back of their neck. This is somehow not included in the captain's challenge limitations; it is just something some players are getting away with. It appears to hover between a captain's challenge and declaring yourself too injured to continue playing.

They introduced an 18th man rule to allow clubs to replace players knocked out of the game by illegal play, but somehow they haven't got that quite right either. The Roosters were unable to replace James Tedesco, despite him leaving the field after Tom Burgess thumped him in the jaw.

Don't even get me started on the ever-changing, no common sense required, obstruction rule, which didn't come into play in the Rabbitohs victory, but played a major part in deciding the Sharks vs. Cowboys clash the night before..

It seems that the more they try to make the game perfect, the less it looks like rugby league. And people are sick of it.


Straight sets departure disastrous for Eels

REAL: Parramatta do not have a single player who was alive the last time they won a premiership. Fans of the club are desperate to end the league's longest running title drought and every year they seem like they might just be able to do it. Yet, every year they disappoint.

Current coach Brad Arthur has done a tremendous job with getting the team into the finals in recent years. But the damning statistic is that they have won just two of their nine finals games played under him. They have done a very good job of earning the reputation of a team that just can't handle the step up to finals intensity.

Last week, they should have had the jump on the Panthers who were coming together on the field as a complete team for the first time in weeks. The Eels were well in the contest early, but the loss of Mitchell Moses saw the wheels fall off and fans left disappointed again. Now they face the very ugly prospect of going out in straight sets, with the Raiders fired up and playing without the burden of expectation.

The Eels go really well when everything goes to plan. If something is not right on the night, they struggle to adapt and persevere. As soon as Waqa Blake dropped the first Nathan Cleary floating bomb, they were done for. Blake was peppered for the rest of the night and the Eels players around him carried a look of resignation. When Moses departed after a head knock, there was no one to step up and fill the void. The Panthers smelt the disorder and pounced on their struggling prey.

For long-suffering Eels fans, near enough is not good enough, and with several players leaving the club next season, a loss on Friday will see the calls go up again for Arthur's head. Regularly changing the coach is not necessarily the answer, just ask the Tigers, but fans only have limited amounts of patience.


There are plenty of players as good or better than Cleary and Mitchell

NOT REAL: After the first week of finals football, one thing that stood out pretty clearly was that Nathan Cleary and Latrell Mitchell have both developed into the most influential players in the NRL. The two of them have such different skill sets, but both are proving to be just about unstoppable right now.

Cleary completely controlled the game against the Eels last week, so much so that his halves partner Jarome Luai was hardly mentioned. His kicking game was pin-point accurate all night, his passing as sharp as ever and his ability to read weaknesses in the defence mean alarm bells ring whenever he has the ball in his possession.

Over at the Bunnies, Mitchell has the uncanny ability to tear a defence apart almost at will. When he has the ball in his hands and is running at a defensive line, players don't know whether to expect a deft pass or a runaway train. He invariably chooses the right option. Against the Roosters last weekend he managed to catch the defence in two minds despite being on the team with two less players. The Roosters had an overlap in defence and still he managed to scythe his way through.

If both players make it through the finals unscathed, they will be crucial weapons in the Kangaroos arsenal, as they battle it out in England for the World Cup in the coming months.