‘We’re in trouble’: Brave NRL exposes AFL
After months of snipes and swipes, Fox Footy's AFLs great and commentators have praised the return round of rugby league.
With potshots over the decision to suspend the season as well as return dates and every decision in between, the AFL's opportunity to see the NRL return has buoyed spirits.
Monster broadcast numbers revealed the ravenous hunger for the return of live sport after months of waiting while the addition of atmosphere to the broadcast seemed to pay off.
On Fox Footy on Monday night, AFL 360's Gerard Whateley praised the NRL for being "brave enough to risk improving their game".
With the decision to implement a one-referee system as well as the six-again rule for ruck infringements, the reopening weekend of the NRL was deemed a success.
Stats released from the NRL showed the new rules had a clear effect with three extra minutes of the ball in play, five extra sets per game, 40 less penalties, three line breaks per game and more tries per game.
"They made a couple of tweaks to the rules and they weren't by consensus and they weren't with the approval of coaches and alike and maybe it was just Peter V'landys and the way he's running things and maybe it was a bit more collegiate than that," Whateley said.
"There were two ideas they wanted, two ideas they got, and there was the profound acceptance it made the game better."
Co-host Mark Robinson said the rule changes had the game in "a lot more motion".
"No one likes stoppages, we have too many in our game," Robinson said.
"I was in a pub about 10 years ago with some footy people from Fox and it dawned on me then when someone had a kick and instead of kicking it 10m out from the top of the square, 'I was yelling out give the forwards a go', to mark the ball. One of the guys with me, who's now an analyst at one of the football clubs said 'nah, nah, nah, kick it to the pocket, contest, knock it out, set up'. I said, 'is that where our footy game has got to'.
"It's the day I realised that coaches were instructing players 'let's not go for the mark, let's go for the stoppage in the forward pocket and we'll throw it in and lock it in'. I thought how stupid was I not to know this already and that's when I thought we're in trouble. Slowly through the last decade, the game's been clamped massively etc, etc.
"What we want is the ball to move. Garry Lyon said this many years ago, 'a lot happens in footy when you play on'. To expand that, a lot happens when you move the ball because when you move they move. We want opportunity, we want risk taking and that has been taken out of our game.
"On the weekend (the NRL) was just movement - that's what we want in sport don't we?"
It's a good review for the NRL.
But Robinson said: "I'm largely into keeping the game itself, I don't want shorter quarters, I don't want less players on the field, let's not stuff up the history books".
But he did praise the AFL for the 6-6-6 and other attempts to make the game better.
Whateley said the way to make the game better is to "stop searching for consensus", learning from V'landys' example and "work out what needs to happen and do it".
Melbourne Demons great Garry Lyon, who, alongside radio partner Tim Watson, were labelled "halfwits" by NRL360 host Paul Kent after firing a cheap shot at the NRL despite the game getting back safely and first.
Lyon said it was "a great weekend for rugby league" and said it was quick and "I loved the whole experience".
Brownlow medallist Gerard Healy said it was something that could solve the "problem" the AFL is grappling with.
"It was interesting, just the power of one rule change," Healy said.
"For a long time I've spoken about setting the Sherrin free. If you look at the three codes - rugby union, rugby league and AFL - we've all been beset by this same problem, and that is slow play or stoppages.
"Rugby union, they've been killed by crumbling scrums and they're trying to get rid of it. We're trying to reduce the amount of stoppages and get the game moving to some degree.
"And rugby league, in the space of one rule change - and ironically made by one man, not a committee, one man and they did it within season - has seemingly changed the game for the good."
Former Lions great Jonathan Brown said the six again rule could equate to the last touch out of bounds rule, where a free kick will be awarded against the last person to touch the ball when it goes out of bounds, as opposed to a throw-in.
But Lyon pondered whether players wouldn't be able to keep the pace going over the length of the season.
"Do we need to be careful what we wish for?" he asked. "The frenetic nature of that game was great, and it looked good, but it is one game. After 12 or 13 (rounds), how are they going to be going, these boys?
"I'm asking the question genuinely. Will rugby league, who wanted the game quick quick quick, in 10 weeks time will they be going, we've created a monster here and we need to pull the rein back a bit?"
Then again the NRL have the AFL talking about it - seems like score one for the NRL.
Originally published as 'We're in trouble': Brave NRL exposes AFL