Up Front with Tony Butterfield

CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: The Knights could easily have beaten the premiers last weekend. Now for the Bulldogs. Picture: Getty ImagesThe headlines from last week could have been anything.


Tony Butterfield: Knights can muzzle the Dogs TweetFacebookMORE GALLERIES

facebookSHAREtwitterTWEETemailwhatsappcommentComments“Sharks attacked”, “Giantkillers” or “Upset of the season”. All would have been apt. If only the Knights found another gear and icedthewin, they could have celebrated like it was 1997.

Alas, not to be. But that shouldn’t change the positive head space of the players who, for the second week in a row, gifted control of the ball. They also lost the penalties, made more missed tackles, made less tackle breaks and fewer line breaks. A post-mortem like that would surely result in a morbid prognosis – much like the hammering by Penrith the week before. But they found something special against the reigning premiers. Is it their rhythm? Their mojo?Their attitude?

Whatever, the tremendously gutsy and character-building effort will have them in a great frame of mind for the reconstituted Bulldogs mob. Subscribing to the “you’re only as good as your next game” mantra, I’m tipping the Knights will fire on all cylinders on Friday night.

Interest in how our squad handles an even bigger pack of forwards than last week will be higher than it has been for some time. Whether each player is up for another herculean effort, well, we’ll see.

Special mention to Mitch Barnett for his wholehearted efforts this year. A star last week, he was the catalyst,in my view, who sparkedthe fightback. He’s a footballer, this bloke, from good Tareestock and an example to footballers who want to be just that. He pushes the envelope in a refreshingly brash rebuke to conservative rugby league,and itsboring and plentifulproponents. As I’ve said before, he’s a keeper.

Young Brock Lamb was also notable for his defensive transformation. Obviously targeted for inexperience and size, his clean sheet last week is testament to his improved technique and an impressive desire to deliver for his teammates. More than 20tough tackles and no misses.Kudos, young man.

Now for the Doggies.

* OVER the past 20 years, rule changes in rugby league have promoted bigger, faster, stronger, harder. That increases viewer appeal by increasing interchanges, building up the size of footballers and increasing the distance between players to add the speed. Bigger collisions? Brilliant! Precisely the aspects around which the game can make safer its workplace for players, but I digress.

Interpretive and subjective adjudications of the rules are confusing for everyone.

By way of example, I get frustrated watching legitimate kick-chasers being run off the ball by “lost” defenders. Often a “read call” by referees, its remains a blight on the game as referees refuse to acknowledge the foul. Even with replays, tworeferees, twotouch judges and someone in the ear?

Spare me days. It has always been a penalty and represents a capitulation by the referees. Already threatening the art form of the short-kicking game, non-action will only encourage further risk aversion and a lesser game.

But for “on trend” ignorance of the rules at the moment, I can’t go past the fakeplay-the-ball with the foot,and the lazy defender lying in the play the ball. Two classics. The players know it and the refs know it. It’s been open slather and they’ve been doing it all day! For 100years both have drawn a penalty. But not the past fiveweeks.

If only by halfa second, not touching your foot to the ball makes the play-the-ballit quicker. The defensive team must therefore counter. So they’ve add another layer of time-wasting by laying in the ruck. Tit for tat. This circular debate is a reflection of the match manager’s shortcomings.

Tough decisions, made early and with the authority vested in the whistle, send clear messages. Things will get a lot easier for referees if they jump on the bandwagon of long-term trends. It will also beeasier for the juniors to relate.

* FORme, thetreatmentof the three errant Penrith players dropped for getting out on the tiles in Melbourne town last week was a bit rough.

Fair dinkum, it’s hard enough playing against the Storm in Melbourne without pulling the old “hotelcurfew” on. I mean, players are back into it very quickly these days. They enjoya window of mere hours to mix, bond, relax with teammates. Reviewing the game, assessing next week’s opposition, or talking anything but footy would seem a reasonable option for a few blokes in their 20s who are likely still sweating from the evening’s encounter.

That said, it’s easy to understand the attitude of managementafter a tough loss. With sixdays to recover it was thought prudent to lock ’em in.

However observersmightfeel about it, the upshot was the players have been put on notice early in the season. The inclusion of captain Matt Moylan inthe mix communicated loud and clear thatnobody is above the team.Methinks theharshlesson may pay dividends down the track.

* THE appointment lastweek of Australian, Queenslandand Melbourne captain Cam Smithto the post of general presidentof the Rugby League Players Associationsignals less a new style and more a new standing for the union of NRLplayers. Replacing the long-serving Clint Newton, Smith will inherit a body of members largely engaged in the running of their business. NotwithstandingNewton’s significant input and influence over many years, it’s expected Smith connections and the esteem in which he is held will be a bonus for the union. Perhaps even something of a circuit-breaker in current horse-trading for a CBA.

In this regard, apart from the expected head-butting over a player revenue share arrangement, the NRL are also trying on an old chestnut that has been resisted for as long as I can remember. Thisrelates to the NRL wielding the power to inspect things like player tax records, bank accounts and mobile phones. All in the name of policing the recalcitrant player group and maintaining the integrity of the game and its partners.

Particularly the off-shore punting houses.A bridge too far?Tell ’em their dreamin’!