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  • NRL interchange reduction likely to decrease wrestle, increase entertainment

    2018 - 07.03

    Players and coaches are welcoming the prospect of a decrease in interchanges, believing the move will help to eradicate the wrestle and give playmakers more opportunities to showcase their skills.
    Nanjing Night Net

    Teams are currently allowed 10 interchanges per game but the NRL is considering lowering that number to as low as six for next season. A reduction is being hailed as one of the biggest on-field game-changers in more than a decade, as it’s hoped it will make the game safer and more exciting.

    Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, who has at his disposal forwards Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita capable of playing big minutes, embraced the prospect of an interchange cut.

    “It will change the whole fabric of the game back to what we used to know it,” Flanagan said.

    “We don’t want players to play with injury, that’s the first priority, but it will change the dynamics. It will add a bit of the gladiator to it, let guys play a lot of time because they can.

    “The players are fitter these days, we’ve just got to train them to play longer. Guys like Craig Young and Glenn Lazarus were big men but it didn’t stop them playing 80 minutes.”

    Asked if he felt the wrestle could play less of a role as a result of the change, Flanagan said: “It will, if they keep the guidelines in and around the wrestle, it will eliminate it. They’ll get tired and won’t be able to get the numbers in. It will be more about technique and one-on-one tackles.”

    The game’s most creative players, particularly the halves and hookers, seldom get a chance to work over tired defences because fresh forwards are injected into the game to replace fatigued ones. However, that is likely to change should fewer replacements be allowed.

    “It’s obviously good news for myself and the other guys who play 80 minutes,” said Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah.

    “I think it will open up the game a bit, take a lot of the wrestling out of the game. When fatigue sets in it’s hard to continue to get three players into a tackle and slow the ruck down. We will probably see a lot more second phase as well.

    “I think it’s a positive, especially for the little guys in the game, bringing them in a bit more.”

    The NSW hooker said the constant rotation of forwards made it a challenge to create space under the current laws.

    “I sense as a hooker in the middle of the field, around that 20-25 minute mark, you start to get some tired players out there,” Farah said.

    “But the next set you’ve got two front rowers coming on to finish off the back end of the half. You’re under fatigue, because I’m playing the whole time in the middle of the park, and you’ve got fresh guys coming on.

    “You do notice it. Having those big guys out there for longer, it’s going to be beneficial for myself, the hookers and the halves in the middle of the field.”

    James Maloney, one of the NRL’s lightest players at just 83 kilograms, welcomed any chance to compete against tiring forwards.

    “Everyone seems to be getting bigger and stronger – if you take it to eight, I might have more of a chance against the big fellas,” he said.

    “It’s probably not a bad thing to make guys push through fatigue. That will split the teams a bit, the sides who excel are the ones who can push themselves and get the job done.”

    However, not everyone was excited about the prospect of more game time. Tigers forward Martin Tapau backed the current 10-interchange system.

    “My first thought is I’ve got to do a lot of marathons, a lot of five-kay runs or the City to Surf or something,” the New Zealand forward said.

    “I don’t know if we’re playing NRL or touch football, probably leaving it at 10 is my thought.

    “It’s a fast game as it is.”

    Several NRL coaches said they would alter their recruitment and retention strategies should the number of interchanges come down.

    Winners and losers

    The players likely to benefit under a reduced interchange …

    James Graham – Can do the tough stuff but also has the silky ball skills to take advantage of tiring defences.

    Paul Gallen – Another 80-minute player with a massive workrate. Has the added advantage of playing front and back row.

    Jamie Buhrer – His ability to play a number of positions means he can slot in wherever required should injuries arise.

    Trent Merrin – Penrith’s investment will be an even shrewder one if the proposed changes go ahead. Capable of playing big minutes.

    Andrew Fifita – Has a massive motor for a big bloke. Can play the entire game in the front row unchanged.

    The players likely to struggle under a reduced interchange …

    George Rose – Listed as weighing 128 kilograms on the Dragons’ website, “Gorgeous George” will struggle to keep up with the pace of the game if forced to stay on for longer.

    Sam Kasiano – Has lost 10 kilograms in the off-season and has wonderful hands for a man his size. But that 132kg frame isn’t made for long spells.

    Russell Packer – A devastating impact player. But will the Dragons be quite as keen to register him after a long sabbatical if the interchange drops to six?

    Keith Galloway – The former NSW representative doesn’t play huge minutes and will need to adapt his training regime in order to keep up with the little, quick men.

    Willie Mason – Is turning 35 next month. Currently on a one-year deal, it would be a mammoth effort to continue on should the game get faster.

    This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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