The “six again” has even more significance because it is ruled “on the run,” a call made so quickly that commentators don’t have time to analyse its fairness.
It’s a great innovation in that it means fewer time-wasting penalties, more tries for the telecasters and the sight of little halves, hookers and fullbacks streaking past the sweating behemoths should do much for development, encouraging smaller youngsters to the game.
But it can lead to “blowouts”, as Roosters coach Trent Robinson pointed out after his team’s 59-0 win over the Broncos.
Good teams, with skilful, quick players, dominating possession early in a game, “gas” the opposition so the extent that when the tired team finally receives possession, the team which has built an avalanche of points, can jump off the defensive line and hammer the ball from them.
The “six again” innovation will also invite more protests over “consistency”, as Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler expressed after his team’s last minute loss to the Eels.
Carefully tip-toeing along a verbal path to avoid an NRL fine, Hasler was probably questioning why the referee blew six again for perceived breaches in some tackles but kept his whistle in his pocket for other seemingly identical tackles.
Hasler could not cite the statistic because the “six again” count is not available at the end of a match, along with all other details, such as run metres, tackles etc.
Over the course of round 4, it appeared as if the referee in Thursday’s Broncos-Roosters match blew “six-agains” late in the tackle count and in Brisbane territory – the most dangerous circumstances for a try.
Champion Data report that Friday’s Storm-Rabbitohs match had only one less six-again (five), but they tended to be early in the tackle count and further from the posts.
By Monday’s St George Illawarra-Canterbury match, it felt as if the referee was playing the role of choreographer. Henry Perenara ruled ten repeat sets, including awarding the hapless Dragons repeat possession late in the tackle count and deep in Bulldogs territory. But they still came up tryless.
As defences improve, there will be fewer tries from repeat sets. Champion Data report that only six tries from the 55 scored in round 4 came from repeat sets, down from the ten from the 50 scored the previous weekend.
But when teams do score tries on successive sets, the opposition may be tempted to deliberately incur a penalty, such as an obvious breach at marker, in order to stop the clock and gain a breather.
The TV screen often doesn’t allow a view of the ten-metre defensive line but it seems as if tacklers are creeping forward as the referee simultaneously watches the play-the-ball for infringements, while back-pedalling seven or so metres.
The game is so fast he again becomes less accountable. Sure, the referee has touch judges to advise but sometimes they can’t judge distance, as we saw Saturday night with a forward pass ruling against Manly.
The touch judge was outed for his error, mainly because the NRL was quick to declare the mistake could not be attributed to the new rules. Yet the single referee is even less accountable than the 1970’s when he warned a team, “I’ll get you bastards in front of the posts at the next scrum.”
How long before NRL coaches anxiously await the referee appointments, as their predecessors did 30 years ago, adjusting for the Matt Cecchins, who signalled 18 six-agains over the two rounds, compared to Gerard Sutton’s ten?
Roy Masters is a Sports Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.