Bennett slams NRL coaches’ one ref ‘hysteria’
WAYNE Bennett has bucked the trend of coaches blowing up about the controversial cutback to one referee and the introduction of the six-again rule, declaring: "If it was left to the coaches today, we wouldn't have State of Origin."
And in a smackdown of the hysteria that the two changes will tear at the fabric of the game and potentially destroy this year's competition, the Rabbitohs coach praised Peter V'landys and the ARL Commission for finally standing up to out-of-control go-slow tactics that infuriate so many fans.
The effects of those tactics are borne out by figures from Fox Sports Stats that highlight how average linebreaks last year were the lowest in the NRL era, dropping from 14.81 in 1999 to 8.79 in 2019.
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The average fell again in the first two rounds this year to just 6.38.
Importantly, these figures have been on a steady decline for this entire period.
"It will be 40 years of Origin this year but when it started in 1980 the coaches and certain club administrators didn't want it," Bennett said.
"But (then QRL boss) Ron McAuliffe and (then NSWRL boss) Kevin Humphreys stood up to everybody and I admired them for it.
"Now Origin is the pinnacle of our game and we are starting to see it now with V'landys and the Commission that they are showing that they are strong enough to back their opinions."
Bennett said coaches were blowing up about the rule changes "because they want control" but teams should only be concerned "if you commit the crime".
"I'm not fazed about it one little bit," Bennett said. "I have worked all my life to try and minimise the penalty count. Nothing has changed for me.
"Coaches understand that the consequences are going to be much greater than they have been in the past because the infringements are going to hurt big time. For coaches that is the scary part. My team is vulnerable, too.
"But it is not something to fear in my mind because it is in the best interests of the game. I believe it will make it a better game. There will be more ball in play and that is the bottom line.
"The reality is there have been a lot of fan complaints throughout the last decade about the way the game has changed and the slowness of it in terms of the tackle and the wrestle, and it hasn't gone away.
"But now the consequences will be even greater if you are going to go down that path because you are going to be doing multiple sets of six, and you are going to find more guys in the sin bin. But there is nothing to fear if you are not breaking the rules.
"They are just going to enforce what we have allowed to creep into our game and put us in a situation where I don't believe the game is as entertaining as it should be.
"I don't believe having the second referee for the past decade has made a major difference.
"We have still got issues that haven't gone away and those issues are the ruck, the play-the-ball speed and the wrestle. That is something you just can't dispute."
While some critics were in favour of one referee but not the six-again call, Bennett said the two went hand-in-hand.
"One referee would not have worked without the six-to-go call," he said.
"But they were smart enough to realise that if they went forward with one referee they couldn't afford to give away 30 penalties per game, so they have given the refs tools to work with.
"It might not be what the coaches want but it is what the administrators want and, more importantly, what the fans want.
"I can't believe all this hysteria. The biggest penalty grabber going back to that other era in the 1980s and long before was the scrums. Teams would do anything they could to get two points (from a penalty conversion).
"Then they introduced the differential penalty where you couldn't kick a goal and we got on with life. What's the big deal here?
"When Peter V'landys got the job as chairman I remember reading that he wanted a game that was fast and open and could be enjoyed by the fans. That is what he is trying to create.
"I applaud the commission for being strong enough as administrators to take the game in a direction that they believe will be more entertaining.
"We are in the entertainment business and if we lose sight of that then we won't have the fan base we have and we won't have the income that employs so many people."