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Rugby league’s obstruction nightmare

Enough is enough. Let’s call a spade a spade. Players who run in front of the ball-carrier should not be referred to as “lead” runners.

Leaders are people who go ahead to provide an example, not make life more difficult. (Yes obviously I’m excluding political leaders from this definition.)

In rugby league, lead-running nuisances either lead to unfair tries, or tears when their video detects their obstruction.

At the risk of sullying the name of a future immortal, let’s just call them what they are … blockers.

Case in point, Parra versus Broncos the other night. The Eels had an overlap, and a perfect opportunity to run straight, draw and pass. But rather than doing it the old-fashioned way, they did what every team practises, namely they sent up a blocker (Makahesi Makatoa) and then passed behind him.

Sadly for the Eels this well-rehearsed structure resulted in Adam Reynolds being bowled over.

There were three choices.

1. Cut-out pass, or what used to be called a face-ball.

Check out Penrith v Warriors Rd 16, Nathan Cleary across Viliame Kikau to Izack Tago for a glorious example of how it’s done.

2. Pass to a forward whose strength is more running into people than quick passing, and hope they execute quick hands.

Examples of this are harder to find, and usually lead to commentators screaming something about a tuba in the strings section.

3. Use Makatoa as a blocker.

No one can blame them for choosing the third, the most effective option. It’s almost always the easiest way to the try-line, the only danger being that occasionally the blocker will run into a defender.

You have to feel some sympathy for the Eels. This structure worked a thousand times at training, and it wasn’t Makatoa’s fault that on game day a defender happened to be in the line he’d practiced running.

This is what separates really good teams from good teams. To be premiers you need blockers who commit and obstruct defenders, consistently finding the magic inside shoulder that hinders enough to create an advantage, but not enough to draw a penalty.

Now onto the histrionic claims that Reynolds “drew a penalty”.

For a blocker’s run to be legal there are three criteria it needs to pass.

First, the pass thrown in the wake of the blocker must be caught on the outside shoulder of the blocker.

Secondly the blocker cannot make contact with the outside shoulder of the defender.

Thirdly the blocker cannot obstruct the defender.

The first two are necessary but not sufficient conditions for legality. The Makatoa incident may perhaps clear the first two hurdles. However it’s difficult to argue that a defender knocked unfairly to the ground doesn’t suffer unfair restraint of trade.

In this decision process the bunker official must ignore former players who thunder, “He couldn’t have stopped the try!” Maybe not … but that’s irrelevant.

Under the principle of “caveat blocker”, the responsibility of avoiding collision lies solely with the attacking party.

The defense rests.

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