Up Front with Tony Butterfield

JOB WELL DONE: Newcastle forwards Jacob Saifiti and Josh King congratulate each other after beating the Warriors. Picture: Darren Pateman, AAP

JOB WELL DONE: Newcastle forwards Jacob Saifiti and Josh King congratulate each other after beating the Warriors. Picture: Darren Pateman, AAP

TWO wins straight and the Knights are officially on a roll.

It’s been a while. Now for the run home. With eight points up for grabs, they remain a slim chance of dumping the wooden spoon on the Tigers to cap a resurgent season.

Maintaining momentum, of course, is easier said than done and the problem is twofold. They need another two points just to draw level and their run home is the toughest in the competition. For their part, the Tigers also face stiff opposition, but finish with the Warriors to our Sharks.

From my vantage point, it seems the odds are stacked against avoidance of a wooden spoon for a third straight season. But, just maybe, if our men in the red and blue could manage to skin these slippery Eels tonight, and the Tigers go down Sunday arvo, it's game on. C’mon fellas. Big game!

EARLY in the year, I opined about the sacking of Penrith players for getting on the squirt post-match in Melbourne. A bit harsh, I thought, after a tough game.

But I deferred to coach Griffin’s decision to set standards, which included the captain. A crystal-clear message from a man of few words.  My old club has since gone on to serve up a mixed bag post the incident but appear to be slowly turning things around.

By no means grand final material just yet, but after winning five in a row and knocking on the door of the finals, they are playing a brand of footy that might extinguish the fire in the Dragons, and steal the eighth and final spot.

Exciting stuff in an otherwise settled field.

AN incident of dangerous play not being appropriately scrutinised reared its head again this week. After Blake Ferguson, Josh Papalii and Sia Soliola in recent weeks, one would think officials are fully aware of safety expectations of the viewing public, and players alike.

Setting the scene, arguably the most dangerous tackle in the game is the spear tackle and drive. That players often emerge unscathed is more a factor of luck than good management. The case in point was Brisbane player Joe Ofahengaue upending Titans lad Max King last week.

In a classic, head-first, pile-drive action, I’ve no idea how he avoided catastrophic injury. When I watched in slow-mo, my heart was in my throat. Talk about dodging a bullet!

Bearing that in mind, after due consideration the ref decided a penalty was sufficient and put the kid on report. And that was it. Play on. I wondered at the time would the decision be different if a neck brace or medi-cab was required. It doesn’t make sense.

At what point will the game, through its referees, set examples and adequately enforce rules designed to prevent major injury in the roughest of games, accident or not?

For mine, in these circumstances, it’s not the brief of referees to determine intent, though they may have an inkling. Nor is it his or her responsibility to ensure equal participation for the sake of eyeballs and punters.

If the ref’s job is to enforce the laws of the game, then the Ofahengaue tackle warranted a send-off. Moreover, if Joey Johns and Brad Fittler can be so adamant Chanel Mata’utia should have been sent off for tripping a player, then Ofahengaue's action should be accompanied by a marching band every single day of the week.

Talking about enforcing rules, bizarre scenes last week in the latest version of how the ball should be “played” in the NRL. In response to critics , the NRL referees are issuing penalties for trying to play the ball with the boot, but doing so, clumsily. I think, like scrummaging, the boys have forgotten how it's done.

Perversely, in response you can bet coaches would be telling their players: “Don't use your foot”. And so, the circular nature of this problem reveals.

Now I don't wish to harp on about referees and rules all the time. Maybe I'm in the minority of those who give a continental, but it's creating confusion at the junior level and, has the potential to be arbitrarily meted out, at the wrong time, in the big games ahead.

Frustrated, I thought I'd have a look at the rule book to get me some perspective.

According to Wikipedia, the game’s current laws, endorsed internationally and by the ARL, are set out in 17 sections across not much more than 50 pages.

Known as the Laws on the Game and Notes on the Laws, it makes for interesting reading in the modern context.

It seems there are allowances in-built for some flexibility around “guidelines”. But on my reading, the rules of the game remain the rules, as amended and agreed in 2010.

By way of example, set out in Section 11: “Tackle and Play-the-Ball”.

It reads: "Play-the-ball is used to restart play immediately following the tackle. To return the ball to play, the tackled player must: (1) have stopped forward progress (ie, been tackled), (2) have both feet on the ground, (3) place the ball on the ground in front of one foot and, (4) roll the ball backwards by use of the boot.

(“The boot” … it couldn't be clearer.)

“From the moment the ball is rolled back by the tackled player's boot, the next phase of play begins (ie the defence can move up). A penalty is also issued against the attacking team if the player responsible for playing the ball, does not play it correctly."

So there it is in black and white. Little margin or wriggle room.

Rolling the ball is contrary to the rules.  Going into solution mode by way of historical context, this current mess is in large part a result of an inability of the game to address the three-and-four-man wrestlemania that mars the modern rugby league experience.

With no appetite or solution in sight, and the poor old ball runner desperate to play the ball quickly, it's no wonder refs have cut them slack. So simply applying the rule to the letter of the law will only partly address the problem.

Underlying and opposing is the ubiquitous “wrestle”. On the basis I think we've come too far to go back, should we not just accept that the rules need amendment? Henceforth, I propose we refer to the act for what it is. A "roll-the-ball".