The Cumberland Throw

Parratroopers – Can the Eels’ 1st Airborne Division completely break a new rule?

For one reason or another the NRL seemed hell bent on introducing changes to its rule-set largely for the sake of change in 2020. It was always going to be a matter of when and not if we would see a change to dead-ball interactions with trainers after the 2019 Grand Final and the NRL acted rapidly here to patch a poorly written rule.

Still, the blight of defenders deliberately falling off tackles to effect 1-on-1 strips will continue and an eligible 18th man to cover for concussions remains missing in action although there is at least a pilot program in the lower grades for the latter this year.

Despite those grievances, fans can rejoice in the fact that excellent defensive sets can now be punished by a gimmicky 20/40 while captains now have the power to elect to set a scrum in one of three different positions – provided they inform the referee within five seconds of their decision. Five seconds of the error? Of the initial scrum marking? The NRL aren’t exactly clear here in their press release so I guess we get to find out in the upcoming trials. Enterprising teams might find the odd opportunity to spring a set play here I guess but adding another layer of convolution to the general sloppiness of scrums feels like a head scratcher in general.

New rules of course mean opportunities to exploit the game for advantages and the one rule that everyone and their blind dog immediately circled in bright red artline in that regard was an adjustment to provide attacking players with the same aerial protections afforded to defenders. Daniel Tupou, Tom Trbojevic and David Fusitua were nearly unstoppable in the air under the previous rule-set, what chance do defenders now have to prevent tries if they can’t touch these freakish athletes until they have re-established themselves on the ground?

It is obvious player safety was at the heart of this rule change but there is a world of a difference in the dangers presented to attackers and defenders in aerial contests due to the nature of the kick chase. While attackers are almost always met with neutral momentum by a defender when tackled in the air, defenders themselves face the risk of being under-cut by a kick-chaser flying through. It feels like the NRL could have instituted a change that punishes defenders for putting a contesting attacker in a dangerous position without instituting wholesale immunity through the process itself.

While the new rule adjustment might be the cause of grievances for both fans and teams as the season plays out, since it is here to stay for the short-term at least – the real question is now how can the Eels benefit from it?

And would you look at that? If we exclude the big boppers in the engine room, and as much as I love them…props are NOT to be trusted with aerial feats of extreme athleticism, the Eels field a pretty impressive corp of paratroopers to attack opposition red zones from the skies. Clinton Gutherson (190cm), Blake Ferguson (191cm), Waqa Blake (190cm) are all adept aerialists in the backline while Ryan Matterson (194cm), Brad Takairangi (194cm) and Shaun Lane (198cm) loom even taller above them as genuine catching options in the back-row. In fact, the Eels kicked deliberately to Takairangi throughout 2019 with considerable success so the blueprint for success is already there.

The wildcard in Parramatta’s would-be ascendancy of the skies lies in the hands of Andrew Johns and his tutelage of the Eels’ young spine. The 8th Immortal has been working closely with all of the blue & gold play-makers but the growth of Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown will be the most scrutinised aspect without a doubt. If they are able to consistently find range with the boot inside the red-zone then the Eels could have a truly terrifying weapon at their disposal.

Conversely, how Parramatta – and indeed the wider NRL – adapt to this new rule defensively will be fascinating to see. Do defenders have to be more aggressive and reckless when it comes to aerial contests, leading to more errors inside their own red-zone? Or is the better strategy to let attackers come down with the ball and then swarm them? The art of the tap-back and the general proficiency in which players offload in the modern game suggests the latter idea is a hugely risky proposition.

Of course, there is also a good chance that I am blowing everything out of proportion and a total of zero of the sixteen NRL franchises look to exploit this rule change. However, where a loop-hole exists it should be expected that the best clubs will look to take advantage of it. All it needs is a Keary/Tupou or hopefully a Moses/Ferguson combination to unlock its potential.

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Colin Hussey

Thought provoking post 40. First off I am blowed if I can really understand some of the changes, moreso the 5 second one, although smart captains and key players given the ability of being able to make quick decisions, could give teams a great advantage. Therefore the captain needs to be in the midst of play so he can make the calls quickly. I am very much in favour of the concussion replacement being part of the NRL game, but why stop at just concussion? When a player goes down with a serious injury that prevents him from continuing in… Read more »


Colin, I reckon teams that use refs for opposed sessions are getting the best practice for some of the rule changes.

Colin Hussey

Fair reply sixties. I would think that having the refs at the opposed seasons allows the teams to get the fine print set in their minds as to what is required.

Not long now for the results of the new rules to be put on show, with the eels & dogs being the first test cases, outside of trials.


Would 2 only involved in tackle not stop it plus allow more offloads plus create a more exciting format , just inquisitive and ignorant .

Achilles' Eel

The new strip rule has become just another means whereby to slow down the attacking team’s momentum as it runs through its sets. For it’s not imperative that the ball be stripped at all – although it’s obviously a bonus if it is. The defensive team merely need tug at or jostle for the ball long enough to set its line again. Now kudos to the Raiders for exploiting this rule in 2019, or for innovating around it to such great effect (whatever one’s perspective be). For they have a great exponent in Josh Hodgson through the middle; and an… Read more »


Achilles, i could not agree more. I am fed up with the nrl and the interference of rules each year and for what benefit? The stripping one is case in point; slowing the game down; either they allow stripping 1,2 or more players one on one or don’t. It is game change for the sake of it and the new one about scrums and moving the scrum is mindbaffling considering most teams use fwds off the scrum. Maybe we need a Forty / Sixties blog on some of the ‘brainwave’ rule changes that have occurred over the last 5-10 yrs?… Read more »


Agree Milo. Why, do they have to change the rules is my question? The answer I suspect belongs somewhere in the mire of the stupid “Fans Poll” they do. Someone in the media comes up with a dumb idea and then it is open to every single individual who thinks they know the game to vote on it. Whatever gets the most votes wins and the all important people can say we are listening to “the people”.


Nice scene setter forties. Haven’t read the actual rules but there’s going to be a fair bit of ‘interpreting’ by the refs with all that aerial action. Is there any difference for in-field and in-goal? Will the bunker have more work?
The stripping rule is messy, quite often the ball is out of sight via hands,arms and bodies and the attacker is penalised for poor carry when the all the refs can’t even see what happens..‘’it’s on the ground, he must have dropped it” . The swings and roundabouts world.

John Eel

I rate the new stripping rule among the worst rule changes of all time. Why would you introduce a rule change that adds nothing to the spectacle Rugby League is a game where at it’s best produces continuous running football, with smaller halves displaying football IQ to conjure some footy magic and produce space for the ball carrier to cross the stripe What this ball stripping rule does is make it a bigger risk to ball play because you are at risk of losing possession. It is counter intuitive to free flowing football that makes our game so attractive The… Read more »

John Eel

Just a little off topic. Have you ever seen anybody as excited as Rhyse Davies was upon signing his first NRL contract with the Eels

I get the feeling that the recruitment group has pulled the right rein with this signing.


[…] I wrote about the potential exploitation of a rule change in 2020 last week and the first impressions from the 9s didn’t exactly fill me with optimism. Parramatta’s own Blake Ferguson earned a penalty after he was tackled in the air as an attacker and while the repeat possession was nice as a fan it left me wondering what other recourse the defender had in that instance. […]

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