Almanac Rugby League: NRL 2020 off and re-running, and how!

By my reckoning, it took only the opening three sets of Thursday night’s Broncos v Eels match to see that we just might be able to hope that the re-booted NRL season will provide us with a faster and better flowing game featuring more passing, more ad-lib options and, possibly, less rigid structures. The rest of the weekend seemed to confirm these observations. Among other things, I noticed:


A correct, early call of ‘six again’ against the Broncos set the pattern for far less wrestle, quick rucks, darting runs,   greater flow and more expansive general play. Unfortunately for them, the Broncos were slow learners and quickly conceded a second call, possession and, consequently, the opening try to the Eels who rode the momentum, applied their skills and reaped the reward. It’s the style of game we craved and hoped for.


That’s not to say that we didn’t see that other staple of the code, heavy forward clashes. The Eels and the Roosters certainly showed us that there is and always will be a place for the big boppers. In the new up-tempo game, control of the so-called middle third is more important than ever. The faster play-the-ball unleashes the quick-off-the-mark, scheming dummy-half or halfback to exploit retreating defences both in close and out wide.


A third observation was the speed out of the defensive line. I’m a bit more sceptical on this one. To my eye, the ‘back 10 metres’ looked a bit skinny all weekend. A disadvantage of having only one referee? Perhaps, but we’re stuck with it for the rest of the year. Whatever, the team in possession certainly needs to make good metres early in the count if they are to take advantage in the latter stages of the set. Forwards need to be more mobile to get back onside for early carries rather than relying on comparatively light-weight fullbacks and wingers to do the early heavy lifting. Allow that and you’ll be on the back foot for the whole set.


And that brings me to the next point – the need for forwards to have greater mobility and aerobic capacity. Middle-sized forwards (think Victor Radley and Cameron Murray) will come into the game even more but there was no lack of mobility among the big Eels and Roosters packs. Getting the balance is the key.


Fifthly, ad-lib players will make a welcome comeback after being stifled for years by regimented ‘systems’. Good riddance! The likes of George Williams, Benji Marshall, Dylan Brown and co. will run riot as the year progresses. This might even lead to a change to the reserves bench, for too long the preserve of hulking forwards. Now I won’t be surprised to see a second utility included in the 17 to be used tactically towards the end of each half.


A couple of other observations from the weekend: the Eels may have finally cracked the game’s code; the Roosters are back and looking ominous; the Titans will be wooden spooners just below the Dragons and the Bulldogs; Manly will be the dark horse; the Raiders are hot to trot; the Broncos lack on-field leadership (among other things); the Tigers will be a nuisance; the Panthers need the killer instinct; is it too early to read anything into the Storm’s loss? As for the fake crowd noise, I can take it or leave it; the ‘faces in the stands’ gimmick is innovative but best acknowledged for the donations it brings to Gotcha4Life.


My whinge of the week is the truly awful free-to-air commentary. Who gives a stuff if Gus missed Rabbits over the past 10 weeks? I used the word ‘self-indulgent’ last week – I grossly underestimated it.


The award for Team of the Week is split between the Warriors and the Knights. The Warriors have had to overcome heaps just to be here and they completed suffocated the Dragons; the Knights overcame huge adversity on the day to scrap out a really gutsy draw when Penrith should have run them out of the game.


Player of the Week goes to Dragons’ skipper Cameron McInnes who, his Dragons having just endured a shellacking during the game, found the poise, decency and excellent sportsmanship to bring both teams together at full-time to offer thanks and appreciation to the Warriors for the sacrifices they are making just to play out the season. Total respect!


It will be interesting to see if Round 4 confirms these early impressions. Let’s hope that the coaches encourage this brighter, more open and attractive style of play rather than find ways to stifle it. I know, it’s a radical concept – the game is more important than the winner!





Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A loyal Queenslander, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. Enjoys travel, coffee and cake, reading, and has been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. One of Footy Almanac's online editors who enjoys the occasional editing opportunity to assist aspiring writers.


  1. Liam Hauser says

    It’s interesting to note that Canberra is the one team that is often able to trouble the Storm, even on Melbourne turf which is often a graveyard for visiting teams.
    The Knights were certainly gutsy in their draw with Penrith, but I absolutely HATE golden point being utilised in the round-robin season. In the event of a deadlocked scoreline after 80 minutes of play, extra time is needed in finals fixtures, but not in the regular season. From 1908 until 2002, there were no calls for extra time (or golden point) when a round-robin match was drawn. Sharing the competition points was accepted by all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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