We had the privilege of having Hull FC & Paramatta legend Peter Sterling on our show last week and he said that he misses Rugby League’s ‘Gladiatorial’ feeling.
Rugby League is a fast, hard sport. We all know that. It’s why we love it, right? But sometimes, a little room for error can sometimes provide more entertainment than 26 machines seemingly being stuck on loop and sticking to their game plans like there isn’t any other pages in their Rowling-esque books. All pro players have flair, speed and fitness levels that would near-match many, if not all Olympians. But does this sometimes result in a dull affair?
Was ‘Wide-to-West’ on the script? Or Danny McGuire’s magical chip for Ryan Hall in the dying embers of the game at Huddersfield to clinch the League Leaders’ Shield for Leeds? Both happened on the final hooter, because the soldiers, or the ‘Brick wall’ as Peter Sterling refers to them, were tired and had a hole in them. You don’t see these things happen anymore. The players are just too fit, too strong and can be interchanged with a fresh body every 15-minutes or so.
No doubt, the players now are a lot fitter than those of the pre-Super League era, but does this result in 100% entertainment? Or do the half-backs do all they can to break the opposition forwards down, for them then just to be subbed off and replaced by another engine with a full petrol tank? There’s little reward due to the interchange rules. Due to how fit the players are, and the toll it takes on their body whilst on the field for 80-minutes, there isn’t even a solid argument to suggest that we could go back to the old days of minimum interchanges. It wouldn’t be physically possible. But, perhaps a reduced number of interchanges could change the dynamics of rugby league and bring back the old fatigue that you just don’t seem to see at the top end of the game anymore. Fatigue means errors, errors means tries, tries mean an entertaining show piece.
Coaches want their players to do as they’re told, right? No coach wants their players to ‘disobey’ their orders, which is completely understandable. But sometimes, players should take it into their own hands more to try something a little off-the-cuff, something with magic. Reigning Man of Steel Jackson Hastings certainly has that in his locker, and he won the most prestigious reward there is for an individual player in Super League. It’s fantastic to watch and although doesn’t always come off, it provides an entertaining platform for the paying spectators and those with Sky Sports subscriptions.
Perhaps the game now is 100% result-based? Would coaches rather win 11-10 and play to only half of their potential? Or would coaches prefer to play exciting rugby and lose a game 32-28? It’s an obvious answer, no one likes to lose. Results win silverware.
Nowadays, the players are exceptional athletes and we shouldn’t take that away from them, but I think the old guard miss the days where mistakes would happen. It’s the sport as it is, and you can’t deny there are no athletes better at what they do than ours.