Limited interchange would mean more game time for raw-boned youngsters like Sharks forward Myles Bruce.
Limited interchange would mean more game time for raw-boned youngsters like Sharks forward Myles Bruce.

League loses lustre

IT won't happen overnight but I'm telling you now, it will happen.

If it doesn't, then the standard of play that has been in a state of decline for 10 years will continue to decline until it is no more.

What am I talking about?

Group 2 rugby league and the introduction of a limited interchange rule.

As I said, it won't happen overnight, because we are too far into the pre-season to introduce such a change for 2011. But it is a change that in my opinion has to be brought in for 2012.

First and foremost, because it will stop players who aren't fit enough to play first grade taking part in the top competition.

The standard of Group 2 has dropped and a big part of the reason why is that there aren't enough players in the competition capable of playing at least 85 per cent of a match.

Secondly, I'm sick of seeing unfit footballers cause injuries to opponents simply because they're not capable of getting into the right position to lay a tackle.

The fact that more often than not these tackles are barely penalised, let alone earn a player a 10-minute stretch in the bin, is a different issue but it's one that doesn't help the cause.

Bellingen's under-18s made the grand final last season and probably started favourites in the season finale against Orara Valley.

Plenty of talented players were in that Magpies' line-up but five months later not one of them has put their hand up to play first grade.

Some have moved on to tertiary education or employment prospects elsewhere but the rest just don't want to risk being hit high by an unfit player who would rather dong someone than allow a line-break.

That a player as experienced as new Bellingen president Josh White had his career brought to a screaming halt during a Group 2 match in those exact circumstances is a prime example of what I'm talking about.

If White can't avoid an unfit player with a swinging arm, how can an inexperienced youngster?

The biggest argument I'm hearing against the introduction of a limited interchange rule is that it will create extra work for officials. Hardly.

The team sheets at every ground are being looked after somewhere near the team's benches in case a reserve player needs to sign on.

It's not that much extra work to ask a team-sheet official to hold on to two sets of cards numbered from one to 12.

I am a firm believer that having less interchanges per match will increase the spectacle of a day at the football.

Fitter players mean a higher standard of football.

It also means having a return to the gladiatorial aspect of the game that was admired by so many for many years.

There are a lot of players who are barely able to run four laps of the ground at training without complaint, let alone roll their sleeves up and defend for more than two sets in a row.

I always say that you get what you deserve in football.

Bringing in a reduced number of interchange rotations will make that adage only truer.

Semi-finals and grand finals will be won by those teams that have earned it, with months of hard work ensuring they have a physical advantage.

Finally, there is the financial argument.

When it comes to cash, clubs should be all for the change.

For too long the amount of money that players ask for to play football has been inflating at a disgusting rate.

How players can ask for more money at the same time that the standard of play in this competition is slipping is beyond me.

With a limited interchange, at least players would have to train often to build up the required fitness base to play.

Under a new system a club could at least feel a confident that it is going to get some value for money.

If a player doesn't want to work hard for his cash let him go and tarnish someone else's brand. There's always the Northern Rivers, Group 3 or the Hastings League to move to.

There is a section of the local football community that is aghast at such a suggestion.

If these people are so sure that a limited interchange system will be the death knell of league in this area, I offer to them a compromise. They can keep the unlimited interchange, on the proviso that they accept a massive crackdown by referees and touch judges on head-high contact.

Let's make the head sacrosanct and any head-high tackle be met with 10 minutes in the sin-bin.

That way you get to keep your unlimited interchange and I'll get to see more young players want to play the game at the highest level that our community offers.

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