Has The 6 Again Rule Dramatically Changed The Demands Of The NRL Post Covid Lockdown 2020?

There's been a tonne of talk in my circle regarding the increased injury rates in this years (2020) NRL Competition (Australian National Rugby League Comp), in particular, since returning from the Covid-19 enforced break.

Are the High Performance Departments to blame, for not preparing players to meet the new demands of the game? Or is it the NRLs fault for not fully understanding the new demands that the 6 AGAIN RULE would bring in?

I can't speak on behalf of teams and the NRL, but in my opinion it’s a combination of both. Plus we need to remember that Covid enforced a huge amount of training limitations on these teams and players during lockdown (training remotely, limited contact with players and staff, reduced training volume with field/contact/tactical etc), limitations that have 100% impacted on the ability to train for specific on field adaptations. As with many things this year, it’s been a perfect storm for shit to go wrong.

For those of you that know me, I’m not one to sit back and pass the buck onto our old mate ‘bad luck’ when it comes to injuries. I can only speak for myself and my historical data here, but I can assume with great certainty that the majority of the injuries (non contact) on my watch were down to human error, my human error in particular, and these errors only started to decrease when I got a true understanding of the training & game parameters (running volumes/sprint exposures/weights/contact/conditioning etc) and how they related back to the athlete in question. This has been my pot of gold at the end of a rainbow when it comes to making a more robust athlete that's resilient to injury.

The increase in injuries across the NRL had been playing on my mind, so a few weeks ago I started to ask why this might be the case, and I kept hearing the same thing over and over, "There has been a massive increase in game demands since this new 6 Again Rule has been brought in!” But the strange part was, no one could tell me by how much. From the outside looking in, the 6 Again Rule is increasing the play periods within a game, therefore increasing the demands of the game, but by exactly how much I didn’t know. So I decided to test it out.

In my early years, I used a very basic 'stop watch in hand' method of analysing  game data. I've since evolved this highly time consuming process, into an automated, easy to use platform, Understanding Game Demands, that gives Coaches the ability to analyse and assess the demands of their sport by tracking specific ‘play and time based metrics’. (See Pic Below)

Fortunately I had 2019 data on the team that I had previously worked for (data that is freely available to anyone and everyone with eyes and the ability to find NRL game replays, no IP from the team in question), and was able to compare this data to what was happening post Covid lockdown 2020. Even though I don’t work for this team anymore, it made sense to compare last years data with the same team this season, as the results will have more validity.

From my experience in team land, I already had an understanding of the game demands from a GPS point of view, and knew that there are 3 key games to look at when trying to assess and understand the importance of game speeds (m/m in particular). These 3 games are;

1.) When the team in question has ‘Lost’ by the most points. (from a GPS point of view, this game tends to have the fastest game speeds in a ‘Defensive’ Sense)      

2.) When the team in question has ‘Won’ by the most points (from a GPS point of view, this game tends to have the fastest game speeds in a ‘Attacking’ Sense)

3.) When the team in question has a game that had resulted in the closet points margin (from a GPS point of view, this game tends to have the longest play periods)

This was the criteria I used when deciding which games to look at during the 2019 season, and also the same criteria I used when choosing the games to analyse in the rescheduled season post Covid 2020.

My reason for doing this was pretty simple, by knowing what the play periods of a game looked like, I could then train for;

  • How many periods there were in a game
  • How long these periods were 
  • What a worst case scenario look like
  • How long was the ball in play for

(see below for fictional example)

Hugely important questions that all Coaches should know. 

So when I analysed last years games to this years, here's what I found;

  • Ave Total Time In Play = No Significant Change ( Decrease of 0.5%) 
  • Ave Longest Play Period = Increase of 65%
  • Ave Play Period = Increase of 24%
  • Ave Total Number of Play Periods = Decrease of 20%

How did this look with the specific time periods;

  • <01:00 = Decrease of 45%
  • 01:00 - 02:00 = Ave Increase of 17%
  • 02:00 - 03:00 =  Ave Decrease of 14%
  • 03:00 - 04:00 =  Ave Increase of 150%
  • 04:00 - 05:00 =  Increase of 50%
  • >05:00 =  Increase of 100%

The results are pretty straight forward from my point of view, the game is more free flowing with this new rule change, there are less penalties which has resulted in longer play periods, and these longer play periods produce a higher demand on the athletes. 

But when we look at the Worst Case Scenario (WCS) Data, things are a little more pressing, across the 3 games in each season;

  • The Max Number Play Periods In A Game = Decreased by 19% (48 - 39)
  • The Game With The Highest Time In Play  = Decreased by 3% (55:35 - 54:11)
  • The Longest Play Period =  Increased by 114% (04:06 - 08:47)
  • The Highest Ave Play Period = Increased by 18% (01:21 - 01:43)

This now tells me that in a WCS, there is a decrease in the number of play periods, without impacting on the Total Time that the ball is in play, BUT the issue is that we have had significant increases in the Ave & Longest Play Periods. 

Increases that would significantly impact the volumes around sprint m, sub max/max sprint exposures, running volumes, collisions, tackles, wrestles, ground work etc), you name it, it has gone up. But my question is, has it been accounted for, and subsequently trained for? This is the million dollar question and where the rubber meets the road. 

It would be naive for me or any of us reading this to think that the solution is simple, it's not, there are a million and one things that need to be in your favour from a High Performance Point of view to have a successful season, and I truly understand the limitations faced by all teams in this current environment.

But understanding your games demands is not one of these, our industry has moved to a place where it is imperative that if we coach a sport, that we must know the sporting demands, no excuses. 

Every little change to a rule, a team structure, or tactic can have huge implications on the demands faced in a game, and if you don't know specifically what these are, how are you going to account and train for them? It's simple you can't, and you won't.

If you are a Coach who's interested in knowing their game demands and getting ahead of the pack, then head on over to my UNDERSTANDING GAME DEMANDS page and have a look my newly released platform (the same as what I used above) where you can get hugely valuable information, and ultimately create meaningful change into your team environment.        


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