Joey’s solution to NRL’s biggest problem
Rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns says a referee whose “sole job is to control the ruck” could be the solution to stopping the wrestle that’s slowing down the speed of the game.
The NRL confirmed earlier this week it would take a closer look at how wrestling is impacting the speed of the game, with ARL chairman Peter V’landys conceding he was concerned the competition’s most exciting players were being held back.
In a report by The Sydney Morning Herald, one NRL coach prepared a document of statistics outlining how the game had slowed down since last season, which included data such as runs made. During the opening three rounds of 2021, 319 more runs were made than in the first three rounds of 2022.
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Discussing the matter alongside Johns on Wide World of Sports’ Freddy & The Eighth, fellow rugby league legend Brad Fittler spoke about how the third person into the tackle has impacted the speed of the game.
“I didn’t notice it (the wrestling) until everyone started talking about it,” Fittler said.
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“I feel if you don’t move the ball, they’ve just allowed the third person to come in and slow the game down again. Apart from that, I haven’t really noticed it.”
Those comments left Johns with a passionate response, declaring the third man approach should be eradicated.
“The key thing you said was third person,” Johns replied.
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“The third person is the one we have to look at and eradicate from the game – it’s when the two players go in and they call it ‘catch’.
“They hold the attacker up, and they hold him up, wrap the ball up. The third person comes in and squeezes the legs, and then they ease them down.
“It ends up about a six or seven-second play-the-ball. The defensive line is set.
“I think we need to stop this third player going in at the legs, whether you call them cannonballs or hip-drops… I’ve noticed it. I’ve noticed it affects the attack of most teams.”
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Johns suggested the solution could be returning to two referees on the field, with the second official only to monitor and rule on the ruck.
“I think we need a referee at the ruck, but without a whistle. Their sole job is to control the ruck and the [main] referee controls the 10 metres… but there’s someone behind the ruck, without a whistle, controlling the ruck,” Johns added.
“If me and Freddy hit you [in a tackle], and we’ve got hold of you and the momentum stops, there should not be a third person in.
“Now, they’re going to say – Jason Taumalolo makes 100 metres after contact.
“Well, you know what? Tackle him around the legs. Change your tackling style.
“Don’t both go up and catch him and give him time.”
The NRL controversially reverted to one on-field referee during the 2020 season while the competition was impacted by the first major wave of COVID-19.
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