Kent: ‘asterisk’ debate should be thrown in the bin

They talk about the premiership with an asterisk as though it somehow diminishes this year's title.

Short memory should not be an excuse.

Somewhere in the middle of all this COVID-19 isolation the asterisk question became a popular topic. Some wanted a whole new experience, a different season altogether because this season could not be salvaged.

 

Would a Parramatta title win in 2020 come with an asterisk for their fans? Picture: Getty
Would a Parramatta title win in 2020 come with an asterisk for their fans? Picture: Getty

Did the first two games count?

The NRL has ruled they do but some continue to argue that for some reason the shortened season and the new rule, under one referee, somehow makes this season illegitimate.

This all turned into a bit of fun one night on Fox League Live when the topic rose again.

Few remember, but the 1991 season began with a bright new idea of unlimited interchange and six rounds in, after some teams ran players on and off 30 and 40 times, everybody agreed it was a disaster.

It changed the fabric of the game so significantly, so quickly, that a simple flick of the pen on a Monday night saw the new rule eliminated and a return to the old four-man, six replacements rule.

No one questions the legitimacy of Penrith’s 1991 triumph.
No one questions the legitimacy of Penrith’s 1991 triumph.

No need for a committee back then. Everybody got on with it.

When I asked Greg Alexander whether this rule change put an asterisk next to the title, his club's first, he answered with the only sensible response he could give.

"No," Alexander said, the memory coming back. "No, you're right. There was a rule change."

Of course this rule change created no asterisk.

Canberra, beaten grand finalists, fought just as hard as Penrith for that title, under the same conditions, the same as North Sydney did and Manly did and the other finalists, Canterbury and Western Suburbs, also did.

They competed under the same rules every weekend, whether it was unlimited interchange or six.

There are two fundamental changes to this season.

 

The NRL is reverting to a one-referee system. Picture: AAP
The NRL is reverting to a one-referee system. Picture: AAP

The most significant is the return to one referee after 11 years of trying to make the two referee system work.

The argument goes that the season began with two referees and to reduce it to one, three games into the season, is to corrupt what is left of the season.

The six-again rule stirs similar debate.

Changing rules is not new to rugby league.

The corner post rule is regarded as one of the best rule introductions in recent years.

Before round 13, 2010, it didn't exist. It hadn't for 102 seasons.

But they changed the rule midway through the season and the game suddenly took to the air. Wingers added a whole new dimension to the game and such was the impact many still regard the rule as a game changer.

 

The Dragons ended their drought in a season with a big rule change.
The Dragons ended their drought in a season with a big rule change.

Does it diminish the Dragons' premiership because Brett Morris has the vertical leap of a small forward and no winger was better able to capitalise on the rule change?

Hardly.

Nobody puts an asterisk next to the Roosters' premiership in 2013.

If anybody remembers that's the year when the NRL tried to stop block plays and ordered a crackdown, demanding a literal interpretation.

That order was rescinded after round five. All those who had argued for a black and white interpretation were now wondering why there was no discretion allowed and it collapsed under external pressure.

Nine weeks after that the NRL missed a zero tolerance on punching.

It happens all the time.

 

Are there any question marks over the Sydney Roosters’ 2013 title? Picture: Getty
Are there any question marks over the Sydney Roosters’ 2013 title? Picture: Getty

For more than a hundred years the shoulder charge was a big part of the game and then, in 2015, the NRL ruled after round six that the shoulder charge was banned.

Some very famous names argued it was part of the game's fabric.

But all you needed to do was mention the name of one man, James Ackerman, to reduce their arguments to dust.

Ackerman was killed when a perfectly legal shoulder charge - that was not a shoulder charge gone wrong, one entirely legal for more than a hundred years, was so severe it ruptured an artery in his neck.

Former chief executive Todd Greenberg ordered a crackdown on ruck infringements to begin the 2018 season.

Todd Greenberg made mid-season changes in his time as CEO. Picture: AAP
Todd Greenberg made mid-season changes in his time as CEO. Picture: AAP

It lasted five, six weeks, then Greenberg ordered the refs to stop nitpicking.

It will take no more than a few rounds for isolation to be no more than a blunt memory in most of our minds.

The two rule changes introduced in the interim will quickly go the same way.

Parramatta and Brisbane have no advantage in their game on Thursday night that the Roosters and Rabbitohs won't have the following night.

The Sea Eagles will have no more advantage out of dummy-half on Sunday than the Bulldogs will have opposite them, or that Parramatta will have against them the week after.

Mostly, though, when the season is underway and we push through the later rounds, and we see how hard the teams are fighting each weekend for their win, and how much a loss injures them, and what it means to the players and how much they sacrifice, how can we ever question it.

Originally published as Kent: 'asterisk' debate should be thrown in the bin


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