Two minor rule changes have a big impact, racking up points and turning the ladder upside down

The two minor rule changes in the off-season will have a major impact on the first three NRL rounds, with many more tries being scored and plenty of room to move around the field.

With players now having to put both feet back 10 yards behind the referee’s line and the “hold, let go” call now being instantaneous, the hookers, halves (and full-backs) have more time and space to act.

We’ve seen some pretty high scores across the board this round, with the Titans and Storm each scoring six tries in Saturday’s 38-34 Gold Coast win.

There are other reasons why there are so many attempts: We had an unusually warm start to autumn for the season and the late start to preparation for many players due to the World Cup means that a number of teams are not yet fit enough.

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It all adds up to the pace of the game going up, and teams thrive with mobile forwards and fast meter-slingers in the back five.

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Play-the-ball speed is faster on average this year, and almost every team with the fastest play-the-ball speed won over the weekend.

Having two feet behind the referee means teams aren’t as capable of charging at the attacking team at their line speed. This allows the team to get the ball rolling a little easier and force the defensive line to retreat.

And then you connect that to the “held, release” call – last year there was a gap between the referee calling hold and then release and we saw teams on defense pinning an attacking player while three tacklers held him swarmed It can take seven, eight, sometimes nine seconds before they play the ball.

It was a deliberate strategy to slow the jerk.

We don’t see that now with these two tweaks. There’s not that much wrestling going on in the ruck.

Of course, scores will drop as teams improve their match fitness, adapt to the new rules and temperatures drop.

A side like Manly benefit from that because they have mobile strikers who can capitalize on that, like Haumole Olakau’atu and Taniela Paseka, clever halves and then Tommy Trbojevic coming in from the back fence to score goals.

When I first met him six years ago when he made the 2017 World Cup squad, he was a lanky 20-year-old.

But now he has the physical size and strength, as well as his natural speed and evasive maneuvers – he’s so big, fast and powerful, how do you stop a weapon like that?

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 18: Kotoni Staggs of the Broncos scores a try during the NRL Third Round game between Brisbane Broncos and St George Illawarra Dragons at Suncorp Stadium on March 18, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Kotoni Staggs scores. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Brisbane is another team that boasts athletic rear rudders and centers, and it’s no coincidence that they’re also undefeated.

I think we’ll see trainers adapt quickly and use more mobile packs after seeing how the early rounds play out. We did something similar with the Kangaroos last year at the World Championships when we used Cam Murray and Pat Carrigan as part of our front row rotation off the bench.

A few years back when the six-again stuff was introduced clubs were complaining that they didn’t have time to tinker with their squad to cut a few lumbering big men from their squad but I think most Teams now have center forwards who have the agility to cover a lot of ground and play big minutes.

The difference in average play-the-ball speed between teams can be as small as a fraction of a second, but over the course of 80 minutes it adds up and can be crucial.

Some of last year’s better defensive teams like Storm, Parramatta and Cowboys struggle with these new interpretations.

The crunchy, defensive third-man, slow ball game stuff is going to come into play a bit more as we move into winter and the night games have more slippery surfaces, but for now it’s a very open and fast pace.

Both Melbourne and the Eels have had to bring in some new players, particularly in their pack, and it’s having an impact.

Neither team needs to panic, but being 0-3 like the Eels are now puts the pressure on a few notches, especially when you have Penrith next week and the Roosters the week after.

They had a somewhat unfair draw in the early rounds because they were up against Manly who lost a bye and that’s happening again this week when they face a Panthers side who had a week off.

There were some anomalies in the schedule early on – the Warriors will play Auckland for the first time next weekend because their first home game was moved to Wellington and they’ve been in Australia for the past two weeks and the Souths have started three straight-road -games.

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 18: Tohu Harris of the Warriors is tackled during the NRL Third Round game between North Queensland Cowboys and New Zealand Warriors at Qld Country Bank Stadium on March 18, 2023 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Tohu Harris is attacked. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Warrior rebuilt under Webster

The Warriors were supposed to be the ones fighting in the tropical heat in Townsville, but they were very impressive with their 26-12 win over the Cowboys.

They have Tohu Harris in the middle who can play 80 minutes if needed and they have recruited Mitch Barnett and Marata Niukore in their back row to give them a high work rate in their pack which they have lacked in recent years.

Their back five is really strong and they’ve survived more than 80% of their sets against North Queensland.

Andrew Webster has changed his style of play and mindset in a short period of time and they are flying 2-1 heading into next Sunday’s game against Canterbury at the Mt Smart Stadium.

Contest leader fell on his head

We have Parra, the Cowboys, Melbourne, Souths, Sharks and the Raiders, all of whom were finals teams last year at 1-2 or worse.

And the Warriors are up there with Brisbane, the Titans, Bulldogs, Manly and the Dolphins at the top of the ladder, so I want to shake hands with anyone who could have predicted that a few weeks ago.

What you did last year doesn’t guarantee your position.

Even a guy like Craig Bellamy looks more frustrated than usual, Todd Payten and Brad Arthur feel a little bit too, but they have plenty of time to turn it around.

Dolphins vs Broncos is already a rivalry

Kevin Walters does the old coach’s trick of trying to downplay the hype surrounding next Friday’s game against the Dolphins at Suncorp, but it’s going to be huge.

The build up and hysteria in Brisbane will be tremendous and Kevvy can say there is no rivalry but with the game already sold out it’s clear there will be plenty of extra emotion in this game.

Broncos vs Dolphins has the potential to become a special event on the regular season calendar like what we saw with the Roosters and Rabbitohs game on Friday night.


(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

And we’ve already had the Redcliffe mob poaching some Broncos stars in Tommy Flegler and Herbie Farnworth, and then there’s the Wayne Bennett factor.

He’ll take a few shots over the bow this week.

And since both teams are still undefeated after three rounds, you couldn’t do better.

Back to Belmore, a beauty

As a “very old” former Bulldog – it was great to see her loyal fans show up in large numbers at her spiritual home in Belmore.

They showed plenty of class in the first 60 minutes, with Josh Addo-Carr scoring a brilliant try after assist from center partner Paul Alamoti in kick reception in the first game.

And Matt Burton capitalized on the rapid jerk speed with an outstanding solo effort under the post.

There were some nervous moments for their coach Cameron Ciraldo and their fans in the last 15 minutes as the Tigers scored three tries in five minutes.

Wests have at least participated and look dangerous as Api Koroisau comes out of the dummy half and it looks like John Bateman will add something to them this year. Two minor rule changes have a big impact, racking up points and turning the ladder upside down

Russell Falcon

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