Is game up to challenge

T

here is a growing chorus of well-credentialled individuals who believe that the introduction of an on-field captain’s challenge in rugby league is the way to go.

The likes of Ivan Cleary, Shane Flanagan and Michael Ennis have all lent their support in recent weeks and in his Sunday newspaper column Ricky Stuart made his feelings clear that he felt it was only the naysayers and those whose careers weren’t directly affected that don’t like the idea.

Now I don’t consider myself to be a negative person and my job is not affected by referees getting decisions wrong, but I am cautiously optimistic about just how successful such an innovation may prove to be.

We will get a minimal insight when it is trialled in a National Youth Competition clash during round 26 but that will be more on an operational front than the myriad of issues that will surely present themselves over a period of time in the NRL.

My caution comes from the fact that those sports being used as examples as implementing the challenge successfully are in the majority very static by nature.

Cricket, tennis and American football are all stop-start sports that lend themselves perfectly to a natural passage of time for a desired review to take place.

The one that does not is field hockey which tends to have a greater flow and would appear more the direction that we should be looking in making a comparison as to whether it could be a valuable introduction for us.

After watching the various challenges made during the hockey competition at the London Olympics there were some positive signs when it comes to rugby league.

However that is with the understanding that those challenges tended to be confined to a comparatively low number of like-minded infringements in one area of the playing pitch, namely ball into the foot, stick checks or dangerous play in the 16-yard shooting circle.

Rugby league will include countless other opportunities that could be disputed over a much wider playing area.

This will be helped by the fact that our challenges will be limited to decisions that lead to a structured restart through a loss of possession, ball in touch, mandatory penalties or possible point-scoring not referred to the video referee.

Such occurrences will allow a window of opportunity for the captain to officially challenge but the onus will be very much on the team leader to act quickly and decisively.

Especially considering the pressure that exists in knowing that only one unsuccessful challenge is allowed per half.

Unlike cricket and Hawk-Eye in tennis, rugby league needs any resumption of play taking place with a minimum of delay.

There will not be time for a committee meeting or much consultation before the skipper decides to take official action.

I would assume that he will also be acting without the luxury of aid from off the field.

While we often see two fingers go up in the air on the sideline indicating the coach wants a kick for goal, I don’t envisage enough time for this to take place before a challenge, remembering that once play resumes then there is no turning back.

Many questionable refereeing decisions only come to light with the luxury of a replay.

It will also be expected to be done in a reasonable manner without a possible, and at times understandable, degree of emotion.

The game cannot accommodate players getting into the face of the referee despite frustration and adrenalin coursing through their veins.

We have seen in recent matches, with so much riding on the results, a number of captains finding it difficult to keep their cool when they disagreed with a particular ruling.

It was Rudyard Kipling in his poem If who highlighted “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you...”

It will also need to be clearly determined who is actually the captain of the side at any given moment as some are not in the action for the full 80 minutes and some club’s have named co-captains.

A simple armband that is passed on when necessary would suffice.

Obviously an intimate knowledge of the rules would need to be held by the skipper and while you might think that is already a given, I can assure you that is not the case.

There are any number of unusual or uncommon rulings that can change the course of a game and could be considered questionable in the heat of battle.

Again the underlying feeling when it comes to a challenge will be that the captain can’t stuff up and waste one by disagreeing with the wrong thing or at the wrong time.

The cynics will also raise the possibility of a challenge being issued with the sole intent of stopping the opposition’s momentum at a crucial stage of the contest.

If there is a change in possession as a result of a strip on a team’s try line late in the game and the other side is preparing to pounce, a strategic challenge could be issued to take the wind out of their sails and allow a defensive line to be set.

I’m not saying that there are teams who would actually pursue this course of action but it is just another consideration that needs to be acknowledged before making any change to the rules.

After another weekend in which our whistleblowers were involved in controversy and mistakes were admitted, the concept of a captain’s challenge is likely to gather more support.

However like all significant decisions that are made around the game we need to tread slowly and carefully before making a far-reaching alteration.

There are any number of ideas that sound wonderful in theory but don’t quite live up to expectations in real life.

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