Former Hull FC star calls out ’40-metre penalty’ rule

Cronulla Sharks rookie head coach Craig Fitzgibbon has opened up on what frustrates him about the game and what subtle changes he would make.

Fitzgibbon has just finished his first year as a head coach and led Cronulla to a second place finish, before ultimately crashing out in the playoffs.

That was a huge success for the Sharks who had failed to even make the playoffs the year prior and the 45-year-old has appeared on James Graham’s podcast, The Bye Round, to discuss his first season in coaching.

Asked about what frustrates him, Fitzgibbon explained: “I feel like we think our game is broken, we’re always trying to fix it. It frustrates me that every year we’ve got to come up with new stuff, just leave it alone.

“Part of me is just like ‘well do you not enjoy our game’, just leave it, leave it alone. Something will happen where people, whether they’ve got a vested interest [or not], they’ll want to change the game for this reason and then others want to change it for that and part of me just goes ‘honestly just leave it alone’.”

Fitzgibbon had an elite career featuring 19 times for his native Australia and also representing Sydney Roosters on 229 occasions. He ultimately ended his career in England playing for Hull FC.

Retiring in 2011 he’s worked in coaching roles throughout many levels including serving his beloved Roosters, but also coaching Country New South Wales which saw players from a lower level represent their states.

The former Rooster was well aware that he may not have the coaching seniority to comment on the game and specific rule changes.

“I’ve been coaching for three minutes man, I’m not going to come out and say ‘this is what we should do’, I’m just learning what this job is all about,” he explained to Graham. “I’m just still getting my feet under the desk, I know it’s 12 months but there’s guys that have been involved in this game that have seen a lot more than me that need to make those decisions.”

Talking on one element that does frustrate him though he expressed a dislike for one of the newest rules in the NRL.

“The only thing I thought was a big shift was the 40-metre penalty, in such that’s almost half the field, my recommendation on that was make it 20 so it’s still a lot more footy that’s not interrupted with penalty kicks to touch.

“I just thought it wrote off nearly half the field with a lot of penalties, I don’t think they did a bad job policing it, it wasn’t like every set there was a penalty [to get you] out of trouble which would have become stop-start. No one wants to watch stop-start footy, they love the six again because it is more flowing. The balance in the middle for me wasn’t 40 meters, it was like 20.”

The rule that Fitzgibbon refers to is that when playing within the opposition 40, teams are granted a penalty and a kick to touch to gain better field position, as opposed to simply restarting a new set of six tackles.

Introduced for the 2022 season the NRL announced it on their website. 

“Penalties will be awarded instead of set restarts (six again) for ruck or 10m infringements inside the 40m zone of the team in possession. This will provide an additional deterrence to defending teams who are willing to concede set restarts to gain a tactical advantage. It will also provide more opportunities for teams receiving the penalty to attack from a better field position.”

Fitzgibbon had commented on the fear the game would become “too stop-start” but heading into his second season he hopes the game is left to evolve on its own.

“We’re entertainers, we want to make sure the game’s entertaining. It’s only entertaining if the ball is in play. I like the footy at the moment, I think it’s in a good spot and I hope that it’s not disrupted again too much.”

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