Has the day come when scrums can be removed from the game?
In this week's For & Against, rugby league Immortal and Channel Nine commentator Wally Lewis joins NRL.com senior reporter Margie McDonald to debate the issue.
Writing in support of scrums, Lewis wishes for a return for the days when scrummaging was an art form and hookers were more than just clever dummy-half operators.
League Immortal Wally Lewis
Hookers have always been regarded as a specialist position. When I played, the most intelligent of players were usually the hookers.
They commanded great control over games before all the current debate and ridicule started about scrums, because frankly, right now, scrums are a farce.
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For me, it looks the referees are just saying "Don't worry about them" because there doesn’t seem to be any real policing of them.
Years ago they would blow 10 penalties to get the feed right to get the ball into the middle, or as close as possible.
Referees are still blowing plenty of penalties in rugby union to get the discipline in the scrums. They're not frightened to send players off for a spell for constant infringements.
It's a specialist position in a necessary set play. There need to be changes but you can't bring them in mid-season.
We should be warning players and coaches now that there will be changes and then make those in time for the new season.
They have it still in rugby union that the team feeding the ball has the first strike at it.
Let's fix the scrum and create some new heroes
I had the luxury of watching John Lang in the Brisbane competition before he went to play in Sydney and Elwyn Walters on TV, who my father rated highly. And then when I was playing Max Krilich he was the man of the moment – good enough to become captain of Australia.
My dad used to tell me tales of Noel Kelly and Ian Walsh – they were two very skilled and very tough hookers.
They'd have their set moves worked out with their halfbacks to try to make sure they won the ball back. But there was always a good hooker in that scrum trying to do the opposite. Wins against the feed had the crowd roaring approval.
The scrum fitted right into the true competitive nature of our game.
It needs to be brought back to that level again to give us that skill and unpredictability.
Why do referees today appear to penalise everything else – they penalise for off-side, or for lying on the tackled player too long – but not anything to do with the scrum?
Many people say "Oh no, you can't penalise scrums" but if you take that attitude then you have to say "Okay we can't penalise them any more for getting off the players too slowly".
Sadly it's a skill that probably won't be seen again – but those that were great at it will never be forgotten. Let's fix the scrum and create some new heroes.
Wally Lewis is a member of Channel Nine's Wide World of Sports rugby league commentary team.
Every try from round 10
NRL.com senior reporter Margie McDonald
Nothing has irked me more over the past decade or so than seeing a back-rower standing in the hooker's position and a fullback running in almost as an after-thought to lock the scrum.
When I stood on my milk crate (so I could see over all the people in front) as a 12-year-old on the sidelines at Langlands Park in Brisbane, one of the greatest joys was watching a scrum.
You never really knew if THIS scrum was the one that would be won against the feed, or whether a penalty would be given because the halfback had tried to sneak the ball into the second row.
You'd see the hooker strike out with his legs to try to entice the ball back. His prop forwards would be trying to hold him up as he courageously put his shins in harm's way.
But with all the changes to the scrum rules over the years, it's hardly recognisable as the rugby league version of a catfight.
In recent years it's almost an inconvenience for players to join a scrum.
And now in 2020, we don't even have the scrum where the infringement has occurred.
Granted that has allowed teams to unleash clever backline plays that can result in a try first play off the scrum.
But the fact a scrum can now be moved astounds me. We don't move penalty kicks, we don't take 20-metre taps anywhere but centre field, we don't kick off from the sideline.
So now that we've broken down the scrum's effectiveness and entertainment so much, just get rid of it.
That's why we don’t call Cameron Smith and Damien Cook "rakes" because they don't get almost parallel to the ground like Johnny Lang or Ben Elias used to do and try to rake the ball back.
THAT kind of hooking is no longer a dying art, it’s dead.
Smith and Cook and Co. have different hooking roles these days, so let them get on with it. They don’t need scrums to influence results.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.