Dying Arts of the Game

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There are some things you just don’t see in Rugby League any more. From the sight of a field dotted with sand-castles, to the shemozzle that was the old-school Rugby League scrum and the finesse of striking for the ball at the ruck.

As the Rabbitohs prepare to take on the Brisbane Broncos on Throwback Thursday, we throw back the pages of history to find some of the game’s dying (or dead) arts.

The toe-poke

Right up until the early 1990s, toe-poking was the accepted technique for place-kicking a football. From Eric Simms to Graeme Langlands, and Mick Cronin to Mark Ellison, the art of toe-poking served Rugby League well. The introduction of the ‘around the corner’ style of kicking didn’t really take off until 1975, when Great Britain hooker, John Gray, wowed Australian fans during that year’s tour with his then-unique style of kicking.

“In those three Tests that I played then, people would come up to me and say ‘how on earth can you kick a ball like that?’” recalled Gray for the documentary, That’s Rugby League.

“But of course it was a lot easier to kick round the corner for most people because it was just like kicking a soccer ball.”

Place-kicking for touch

Surprisingly, this could still be a thing! According to Section 13 of the laws of the game, “a player may take a penalty kick by punting, drop kicking, or place-kicking  the ball from any point on or behind the mark and equidistant from the touch-line.” However, with teams looking to build momentum in the modern game, it’s unlikely that the place-kick for touch will ever see a revival.

Building a Sandcastle

Being an accurate goal-kicker in any era required a range of fine skills, but even as late as the early 2000s, goal-kickers also had to be fairly adept at building sand-castles if their attempt at goal was to have any chance of success. Heaped mounds of sand dotted playing fields the country over as players went in search of two points.

The variables were many. Some players preferred beach sand, others preferred soil or sawdust, while others added an extra element to proceedings by mixing their sand with water on-field in an attempt to get the perfect consistency that would give the mound the sufficient structural integrity to have the ball raised enough for the kicker.

The widespread acceptance of the kicking tee in the late 90s and early 2000s – arguably popularised by Daryl Halligan – saw the death of the engineering marvel that was the kicking mound, as well as the young lads whose job it was to deliver sand to the players – the sand boys.

Pushing in scrums

It’s an issue that at times can be more divisive than politics. The Rugby League scrum of yesteryear bore more resemblance to a brawl as both teams fought furiously to give their hooker an advantage to win the ball back for their team. Many have called it a shemozzle the game can do without, while others have called for the contest to return.

Raking at the play the ball

In today’s game, basic ball control will more often than not see the attacking team get to the end of their set save for a knock on OR the odd one-on-one strip. But in Rugby League’s yesteryear, an extra dimension was added to proceedings with the ability for the defence’s marker to contest the play the ball with his legs. It was an art-form used to best effect by Rabbitohs hookers of the 60s and 70s such as George Piggins and Elwyn Walters, and posed a genuine opportunity for the defensive team to win back the ball at any ruck.

The Magic Sponge

The healing properties of a sponge soaked in a bucket of water have long been a source of wonder to Rugby League fans. In an age where drinking water during a game was frowned upon for the potential to cause a stitch, players who were patted down with the sponge would often also take a drink from it –  despite it being soaked in a witches brew that would only be changed at half-time. Its effects were undeniable though, with players quick to rise to their feet after treatment.

Tackling around the legs

“They can’t run without legs!” You can still hear it being yelled at junior Rugby League matches all over the country every weekend. But it seems that as players get older, the need to wrap the ball up to prevent second phase ball has increased exponentially. The art of the decisive, cutting tackle around the legs is one that has all but disappeared.

It's Throwback Thursday this week as the Rabbitohs take on the Brisbane Broncos in Round 25 of the Premiership. Click here to purchase your tickets now!