In a year of such uncertainty, there was only one sure thing in rugby league – this would be a season like we had never known.
We faced 18 consecutive weeks of games – something we’d never seen before in the modern era – with players preparing within a COVID bubble that meant a huge change to their lives. We’ve now passed the halfway mark of our 18-week sprint and here are a few trends that have emerged:
• Momentum swings: The scorelines are inflated, the margins are wider and the pattern of scoring in games has changed. It feels a bit like the old NRL Under 20 competition when large scorelines seemed to be the norm. We lost to Cronulla 36-26 last weekend. The Rabbitohs beat the Dragons 32-24. A few weeks ago, the Panthers beat the Sharks 56-24.
I coached the Melbourne Under-20s in 2013 and momentum swings were the norm. You could lead 18-0, fall behind 18-22 and then come back to win 30-26. It was that type of competition.
The key was the lack of wrestle in the Under-20 competition compared to the slowing tactics in tackles at NRL level where players were stronger and more experienced. The wrestle has been reduced this year by the six-again rule for ruck infringements that has brought momentum back into play. The average margin in games is 16 points compared to 11 points before COVID hit.
• Injuries, injuries, injuries: This year has shown how valuable the bye is during a normal season. Plenty of clubs would relish a bye to rest the injuries that have come up at a rate we’ve never seen. Two weeks ago, 90 players were unavailable across the competition through injury, suspension or personal reasons. The Broncos made up 15 of those 90 players.
That’s not an excuse for how we’ve fared in recent months. It’s simply an observation that this season’s competition is taking a toll on players. The change to the six-again rule has helped to keep the ball in play more than we’ve known.
In the past, a ruck infringement has meant a penalty, a kick for line, a walk to the tap restart and the chance for some deep breaths. Not now. The tempo is testing players.
• Take nothing for granted: For all players and coaches, COVID-19 has been change like we’ve never experienced. We didn’t live through the world wars, Spanish Flu and the likes of the Great Depression that impacted rugby league in its fledgling years.
COVID-19 has been our great disruptor and it’s been a challenge for many. It’s a reminder of how much we love being part of this game. We never expected our participation to be disrupted like this. Just like everyone else in life, regardless of their situation, we suddenly realised the things we take for granted were suddenly precarious.
It hasn’t all been bad though. The travel to away games has been a change for the better. Leaving for the game on the same day and returning that night takes away the downtime that can cause issues during a normal schedule.
The 2020 season has been a non-stop learning curve and there’s still plenty ahead of us with eight matches remaining. The Broncos want to finish the season strongly, starting with tonight’s clash with the Rabbitohs in Sydney.
One thing we have learned is clear – we love what we do and we are privileged to play professional sport but we know ours is just one of the many stories in a world undergoing change like we’ve never known.
Anthony Seibold is the coach of the Brisbane Broncos and writes occasionally for InQueenslandJump to next article