This week I have watched a lot of rugby league, thanks in no small part to Premier Sports (Sky channel 428), who recently won the contract to broadcast every single game from the NRL in Australia for the next five years – that’s a minimum of six games a week, all of which I’ve had a crack at watching.
The deal also includes all State of Origin matches, Australian Test matches, and the NRL final series, while the channel also carries live coverage of one Kingstone Press Championship match each Thursday, which makes a total of seven matches a week on Premier Sports.
That’s a lot of rugby league viewing each week in anyone’s book and I haven’t even mentioned the two live Super League games a week shown on Sky Sports or the odd Challenge Cup game carried by the BBC.
I should point out that this column hasn’t been sponsored by Premier Sports this week, although if they’re reading this I’ll gladly accept a discount on my very reasonably priced subscription! (£80 with the ‘BOWLS’ promotional code, since you asked)
So after the opening NRL fixture of the South Sydney Rabbitohs taking on Sydney City Roosters, where Sam Burgess welcomed back Sonny Bill Williams – or Money Pit Billions as Reg Reagan hilariously referred to him in a brilliantly funny, albeit a decidedly edgy recent outburst against the banning of the shoulder charge (only check it out if you’re not easily offended) – to rugby league by sending him sprawling like a bowling pin after a particularly robust ball-carry, what have I actually learned from watching all that NRL?
The first thing is that the NRL looks to be a much cleaner and quicker game than that of our own Super League and this is primarily down to one reason – the use of two referees.
When the NRL introduced two on-field referees in 2009 many onlookers, including myself, wondered how the system would work and how it would benefit the game.
However, after watching all six games from the opening weekend the effectiveness of that system became apparent – there is very little interference at the play-the-ball in the NRL simply because players can no longer get away with it, with one referee focussing primarily on the ruck area.
And because players can no longer get away with interfering in the ruck, tackles are completed, defenders roll away and the ball is played so that the game is allowed to continue quickly.
This in turn creates a faster game and more attacking opportunities as defenders retreat onside.
The skill levels of the top Antipodean and British players are very similar, however it is the speed of thought and speed of execution of these skills which tends to separate the players of the Southern Hemisphere from those of our own shores.
The introduction of a second referee in Super League therefore could result in rise in competitiveness of the England national team when facing the Australians in the future and is certainly something which the RFL should consider.
However, doubling the size of the match officials’ workforce to accommodate such a move may prove difficult for the RFL at the present time with suggestions of a possible strike of full-time match officials in the near future, over a number of issues with which they are unhappy, and that’s before taking into account the added cost of financing such recruitment.
But back to Australia and another thing which they do much better than our good selves here in the UK – commentary and afterwards, the match analysis.
The likes of Ray Warren, Peter Sterling, Phil Gould and Andrew Johns enlighten, excite and entertain the viewer with honesty, humour and wit.
Now, while Sky Sports coverage of Super League has certainly improved in recent years with the likes of Phil Clarke, Brian Carney and Jon Wells bringing articulate, constructive and informed opinion to the viewer Mike ‘Stevo’ Stephenson still particularly rankles, with his inane and often absurd and wild assertions leaving my thumb hovering perilously close to the mute button for the majority of Sky’s coverage.
Oddly enough the fact that Stevo annoys me so much still won’t stop me watching Rugby League Backchat on a Tuesday evening and arguing with the TV at the ridiculous things he says and I guess that’s exactly the reason why he’s on Sky’s payroll in the first place, to provoke a reaction from people like me. Ho hum.
So with all this rugby league on the television at the moment it’s a great time to be a rugby league fan, so sit back, put your feet up and enjoy. Regardless of what Stevo says.