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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.

Ruck'n Maul
Sweetness and light from NRC kick-off
Greg Growden
August 22, 2014
Ruck'n Maul: Wallabies must use bench better

It may have been overshadowed by all the Bledisloe Cup brouhaha, but there was still plenty of sweetness and light at the start of the National Rugby Championship (NRC) on Thursday night.

The plan to provide a platform for new talent, and a more enlightening brand of football, certainly worked in the Brisbane City - Sydney Stars match at Ballymore. The law variations, which discourage penalty shots, also worked, with both sides ignoring that option and instead going for all-out attack in the hope of achieving eight points from a converted try. Miserable conditions would usually have discouraged risky play, but both sides forgot about the wet and opted for adventure - and with it came 10 tries in the game. As importantly, midfield kicking was only an occasional option, prompting a fast and often frenetic competition opener.

A few minor quibbles: it wasn't wise to have the two teams in similar coloured jerseys, and then, to top it off, to see the referee also dressed in a bright garb; it turned in a confusing sea of yellow.

And while the eight-point try is great, a better mix would be six points for the try and two points for the conversion rather than three for the kick; two converted tries should not beat three unconverted tries, and so on.

Apart from that, it was a very encouraging start for the NRC.

The opening NRC fixture was a hi-vis spectacular © Getty Images

Full marks to Balmain

Another good NRC sign is that it even has real grassroots Subbies involvement, with the Sydney Stars team featuring Balmain Kentwell Cup players Ryan Wilson and Matt Kenny. While on Balmain, full marks to the club in raising more than $30,000 to go towards the purchase of defibrillators for numerous Subbies clubs.

Big matches deserve best referees

We haven't heard this word for a while, but the "nincompoop" made a welcome return to describe the performance of one of those involved in last weekend's Bledisloe Cup match. Former Wallabies coach Alan Jones - actually the last Australia Test coach to enjoy victory at Eden Park back in 1986 - was scathing about certain aspects of the international during his radio program. He couldn't believe the Wallabies failed to take their chances, while a certain "nincompoop" ruined the Test. You guessed it. He was referring to the referee Jaco Peyper. Jones was not alone in his thoughts, with widespread dissent about the over-officious attitude of the South African who forgot the game was more important than himself. It is high time the ruling body, when organising referees for major Tests, gives it to the best whistleblower rather than to those who are well short of the mark. Such a match warranted the best referee going around: Craig Joubert. This week, there is general uneasiness that Frenchman Romain Poite is in charge at Eden Park Test, especially as he has been tough on Wallabies scrum indiscretions. Those involved in referee's appointments really need to pick up their act.

Who won the Ken Catchpole Medal?

Once upon a time the announcement of the Ken Catchpole Medal for the best Sydney club player was a big deal; it involved slap-up dinners, bow ties, evening gowns, endless bonhomie… the lot. In yet another indicator of how club football has sadly slipped down the totem pole, the winner of the Ken Catchpole Medal this year was announced at Concord Oval during the break between the second-grade and first-grade Shute Shield grand finals. Very underwhelming. For those who don't knoe, Hamish Angus won the award for the second time in three years.

Also it appears that not everyone at the ground was devastated that Sydney University, who have dominated the club competition for so long, weren't part of the first-grade grand final. We've been told by our club snouts that quite a number of prominent people on grand final day were wearing under their greatcoats at the ground, T-shirts which read "Anyone but Uni". Tall poppy syndrome?

Greg Growden and Russell Barwick preview the second round of Rugby Championship Tests

Image is important

Richie McCaw arrived at the Bledisloe Cup after-match press conference in suit and tie. Michael Hooper arrived wearing a beanie. Hmmm! Must have passed the attention of the Wallabies team manager. Then again, have they got one? Hmmm again. Under previous Australian Rugby Union regimes, I can guarantee the Wallabies team staff would have received a bollocking from head office over this.

A schoolboy feat worth repeating

The St Augustine's 14A team in Sydney had a fair season in the ISA competition. They were unbeaten in 10 games, but more impressively did not have one point scored against them. 605 points for, 0 against is a fair tally.

No need for golden point

The chance of the golden-point system being introduced to Test football - after the 12-all Bledisloe Cup draw - appears to be zilch. Leading rugby authorities hold no interest, arguing there's no point in trying to manufacture a result as draws are so rare in international rugby. This was only the seventh draw in 150 Australia-New Zealand Tests.

Whispers of the Week

- Wallabies are fascinated to establish the identity of a mystery writer revealing a few secrets on a sports website renowned for anonymous muppets sledging anyone and anything.

- One self-important alickadoo wasn't too impressed with his treatment at the Super Rugby final, and has complained to authorities. His complaint won't go anywhere.

- A notable NRC player about to announce he is off to the south of France.

- One Sydney club had a surprise visit from police when end-of-season celebrations got out of hand last weekend.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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