NRL rule changes take players’ breath away
Players will have to get up to speed - literally - as rule changes look like having a major impact on rugby league this season.
Last year the NRL unveiled a suite of alterations ARLC chairman Peter V'landys said were introduced with a view towards "less stoppages, more unpredictability and increased excitement for our fans".
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Last season's "six-again" rule for ruck infringements sped the game up considerably and several of the new regulations have only added to the intensity. Being offside within 10m will also result in six more tackles, rather than a full-blown penalty, while scrums have been ditched in favour of play-the-balls when the Steeden or a player goes over the sideline.
Penrith and Parramatta players had their first taste of the frenetic pace they can expect this year as the Panthers beat the Eels 16-6 in a trial match on the weekend.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports the ball was in play for more than 32 minutes in the first half alone - whereas last year, the ball was in play for an average of just over 56 minutes per game.
Eels coach Brad Arthur revealed fullback Clint Gutherson was clocked at covering 120m per minute in the opening 20 minutes - well above a high-intensity average of around 90m per minute - and said the speed of the contest was partly the reason for his side's "clunky" attack.
"It was clunky but they were just tired getting into position," Arthur said. "It (the match) was just about making sure there were no injuries and getting some match fitness - get used to the speed of the game because it was fast.
"The speed of the first half, they reckoned it was around 95 metres per minute which is pretty high.
"Gutho (Gutherson) was 120 metres per minute in the first 20 minutes so it was very fast.
"I think both teams were real tired at stages and the quality of the shape was off at times but I think that was because of the speed of the game. It's just going to take a bit of getting used to.
"We had a plan to get the players off a lot earlier than we did but I thought they needed the match fitness."
One player told the Herald "I couldn't breathe", such was the speed and intensity of the game under the new rules.
Last year V'landys said feedback from stakeholders in the game convinced NRL bosses they needed to adapt.
"The message from the fans and our broadcasters has been clear - the game became too predictable and the balance between attack and defence had gone too far in favour of defence," V'landys said.
"Our changes last year were successful in addressing some of those challenges and the changes announced (for season 2021) will take the element of unpredictability and entertainment a step further."
Originally published as NRL rule changes take players' breath away