Source: Greg Growden | SMH | 12/05/11

Those who wandered into Brookvale Oval last night must have wondered if they had entered the twilight zone. One minute there were two teams playing rugby league; the next it was rugby union.

But no, it wasn’t a prank or a trick of the light. It was instead the historic first Hybrid Code match, with senior school schoolboy sides from St Augustine’s College and Keebra Park State High on the Gold Coast playing under a new set of laws that are aimed at using the best elements of each game.

In front of a crowd of over 4000, which included a host of league and union identities, including Tim Sheens, Matthew Johns, Phil Blake,David Wilson and Scott Gourley, the 13-a-side teams were one minute playing the ball league- style, the next they were involved in a scrum that actually meant something, and then later they were rucking and mauling away at anything in their path. The pace was frenetic. The outcome unpredictable. And there weren’t the usual interruptions that particularly infuriate union followers and make the code the butt of numerous jokes by leaguies.

Although the codes have been bickering brothers since the 1908 split, for some time entrepreneurs have been eager to get the two together and produce something that would appeal to both spectator groups.

At the first split personality of last night’s hybrid game made it bewildering to follow, but gradually it sunk in. It all depends on what half of the field the game is being played in. If the attacking team is in its own half, the teams play to rugby league laws, but as soon as the play crosses the halfway line, the rugby union laws take over. The spectator, like the player, just has to keep thinking. The hybrid also involves interesting innovations such as a basket-ball-style shot clock, where teams have 60 seconds to do something with the ball or turn it over. This helps avoid the many dead spots that mar rugby union. One of the game’s organisers was former Wallabies skipper Mark Ella, who admitted being initially apprehensive about a league and union mix but now believes it can successfully showcase the best attributes of both codes. Ella likes how the game eliminates the predictability of the six tackle in league, which provides an abundance of up-and-unders near the oppositions try line, and curbs the bane of union – defensive kicking.

The scrums have also lost part of their power through the elimination of the two breakaways, making it a six-on-six forward battle. Also, with two fewer players on the field there is more space to attack from a ruck and maul.

Ella argues that the hybrid game is not aimed at replacing the codes but becoming an alternative.

The aim is to one day use it to bring Wallabies and Kangaroos together in a cross-code spectacular, which organisers believe would fill ANZ stadium.

But that bold move would depend on the support of the Australia Rugby Union and the NRL – and the response so far has hardly been in the back-slapping category.

But for those who braved the cold Brookvale Oval terraces last night, the hybrid game certainly shows promise. For the record, St Augustine’s won 16-12.