Out With The Old, In With The

Throughout the years, stemming back to league?s inception back in 1895 in England, there have been many changes to this very day. Much of it similar as to what happens in the movie ?Office Space?, starring Ron Livingston and Jennifer Aniston, a ?consultant? comes in to see what works where, how it works and whether it is redundant or irreplaceable.

League is the petulant younger brother of Rugby Union, aching to break free and go out on its own. It did exactly that. So there was never any confusion between the Rugby codes, the number of players on the field was reduced down to 13. Added to that was the elimination of a lineout should the ball leave the field of play in general play, a play the ball was introduced instead of a ruck or a maul, and field goals and penalty goals were made two points each. As it was with Rugby, league had an unlimited tackle count. So theoretically, a team could hold onto the ball for an extended period of time without surrendering possession via a kick. It was in this vein that ball control became the focus of many, many sides of that era.

But like with most things and events nowadays, league had its individuals and groups, which alone forced the game?s hierarchy to look at ways to improve. Winning back-to-back premierships nowadays and even back in the 90?s is proven to be a significant task. Parramatta were the last team to ?3 peat?. Easts won 3 in row in the 1911-13 and in the mid 30?s and Souths pulled off 5 in a row from 1925-1929, which stands second of all time in consecutive Grand Finals won but none of this compares to the mighty St George Dragons who from the year 1956-1966 won an unprecedented 11 titles in a row, unrivalled in any other sport in history. These were from the days when players like Brian ?Poppa? Clay, Norm ?Sticks? Provan and Ken Kearney were running other teams ragged. St George won their 11 titles in a row under the unlimited tackle rule. Coincidentally, the year the league introduced a limited tackle law, St George?s 11 year run ended in the semi final, ultimately won by Souths. Back then the tackle limit was 4 (later bumped up to 6 in the early 70?s). It is still regarded as the most significant change in the history of the game.

Many of us grew up with field goals being of only 1-point value. But until 1971, league had the field goal set on two points. Like with a team like St George exploiting the unlimited tackle law, there was no greater exponent of the field goal in the history of the game like Souths custodian, Eric Simms. Simms kicked field goals as if his life depended on them. In the 1970 season he kicked 20 field goals in total, that?s 40 points onto his season tally. In the Grand Final that year against Manly (won by Souths) he kicked an amazing 4 field goals (still a record today). In total, Simms kicked a jaw dropping 86 field goals for his entire career. The ruling body decided that they would reduce the value to 1 point. In 1973 Newtown defeated St George by 1-0.

It seems hard to fathom, but until the year 1964, there was no such thing as replacements or interchanges. So a player had to go the full 80 minutes or go off injured and the side plays with the man down. Actually until recent times interchanges were not heard of. In 1964, the league introduced a law, which allowed two replacements up to and including the half time break. The difference between replacements and interchanges is a replacement is permanent, whereas an interchange player can go off and come back on.

Another significant change that comes to mind is the change from the 5 metre gap to 10 metres. The lawmakers back in the 90?s thought with the advent of a wider television audience and pay-tv, they should open the game up. This gives the attacking side more time to cart the ball up and more options. However, the one downside is that it does take the defence longer to turn and get back.

Throughout the years, the laws have changed as the game progressed. This is so the rules can?t be exploited, but also so that the game can improve.

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