The NRL has introduced rule changes for 2016 designed to open up the game and reduce time wasting.
– Interchanges drop from ten to eight, with four players on the bench during those interchanges.
– A shot clock introduced for scrums and drop-outs.
The interchange rule could see the return of two important roles: the eighty-minute forward and the small, darting impact player.
There was once a time when a forward would take pride in playing the whole game, hitting the ball up as hard in the 79th minute as he did in the first. With increased interchanges, there is more rotation, trying to minimise injuries during a long season.
The impact player is most effective at the end of halves, taking advantage of tired forwards to steal easy metres and catch a lumbering defensive line off-guard. It’s important for the clever little men (think Alfie Langer or Geoff Toovey) to have a role in the game. Doing so opens the game up and could bring back the specialist bench player who comes on fresh for a few quick bursts from dummy half.
The shot clock may seem like it’s stolen from basketball, but it will help speed up the game. Teams under the pump take full advantage of an unlimited drop-out time, which robs attacking teams hard-won momentum from consecutive sets. Scrums have been a non-event in rugby league for a 20-odd years. The hookers no longer hook, and a win against the feed is rarer than a correct DRS referral from Shane Watson. Scrums are now seen as a chance for everyone to have a rest and prepare for set plays. With no proper contest, it slows the game down. Putting a shot clock on scrums will encourage teams to pack the scrums quicker and move the game forward.
Like all new rules, there will be teething problems, but hopefully we will see the benefits of a quicker, more open game.