Australia hosted Olympic and World Aquatics champions United States of America women and Japan men in water polo test series in Perth, Western Australia over the past 10 days. The new rules, which came into effect worldwide on 1 January, were played in front of capacity houses and generally attracted favourable comments from the protagonists.
The USA beat Australia women — the Aussie Stingers — in two of the three tests with the first drawn. The Aussie Sharks drew its series with Japan men with a win each and a draw in front of 1500-plus crowds at HBF Stadium, the venue for two FINA World Championships — 1991 and 1998 — plus numerous other World Aquatics events.
For Australia and Japan, it was the first chance to tackle the new rules while the USA had just come from series with Italy and Spain where the rules were implemented.
Scoring Goals caught up with the coaches and four athletes to ask them about what they gained from the rules’ implementation.
Photos courtesy of Water Polo Australia and Russell McKinnon
Legendary USA head coach Adam Krikorian has had three opportunities to roll out the new rules.
“I think most rule changes don’t necessarily impact the game. I think the biggest one is the introduction of the goal box and the ability to stay in the two-metres zone outside the box. I think we are still getting a feel for what’s best. Clearly, it’s opened a little bit more space for the offence. Allowing those players on the wings to position themselves deeper in the half-court, offensive situations, but also on six on fives.
“It’s just given a little more space for the players up on the perimeter to be able to attack in and it’s definitely an advantage for the offence. I think small adjustments; I don’t think it is very difficult, to be honest. There is a little bit more space to cover from a defensive standpoint.”
On the penalty advantage, Krikorian remonstrated with the referee for not calling earlier but forgot that she was playing advantage.
A double world champion, World Cup winner and four-time World League champion for Team USA defender Jordan Raney said: “I like the new rule of the wings being able to go into the two metre and staying in the two metre without the ball. Because it’s a more exciting game that way, a lot more passes to the posts.
“It’s a lot quicker and I find that really exciting, especially for the fans. A little difficult to guard, but it’s a cool addition to the rules.”
On penalties, Raney said: “I think it’s a great advantage for offence. You have a lot more space. It’s almost more calming in a sense because you don’t see someone to your right directly. Sometimes they give you a little kick to kind of screw with you. You’re almost by yourself with the goalie and you can zone in on your shot. If you miss you can possibly get it because you are in front, right?”
Japanese head coach Yoshinori Shiota said the Perth series was the first time his team experienced the new rules.
“There are not so many big changes. Doing the six on five players can stay in the two metres, but I cannot say there are major benefits for us,” he said, considering the style of the Japanese team.
“With the penalties. There are some questions around (the awarding) situations. Today there were mistakes from both sides,” Shiota said “Bad passes leading to the penalty fouls. Tim (Hamill) also had energy about that. It is very difficult to referee with the delay.”
Japanese veteran goalkeeper Katsuyuki Tanamura, who played the last two Olympic Games, believes the new penalty-foul situation is “much fairer.”
“I think the new rule is better for us. The old rule put too much pressure on the shooters. Referees are always different. This is fairer, now.”
Sharks head coach Tim Hamill said it was a case of exploring the new rules. “To be honest, I don't think we've fulfilled or utilised the new rules as well as we should have, particularly the goal line or the two-metre box error or on extra-man attack.
“I think we could have done a better job in terms of using our wing plays on the zero metres. And on the other side of that, extra man becomes incredibly hard when the wing players can get to two metres.
“So that's probably the piece I see at the moment with the biggest impact on the game under the new rules. I don't really believe the others [rules] have changed the game so much, but I think the goal here is something we need to try and exploit better.”
Australian co-captain Blake Edwards said the Aussie Sharks had worked pretty hard during the break on the new rules, “in particular the six on five in adjusting to the new rules, so won't know how it goes until we play in the best competitions”.
“It was and it's a bit of an adjustment for everyone, of course, but hopefully, we'll get more experience during the (Australian) National League.
Aussie Stingers head coach Paul Oberman still has concerns about referee interpretations.
“I think that one of the new rules being the box or the two-metre or the rectangle, whatever you want to call it. I think it's been good that it's given the attackers more room to move into all the way down to the goal line.
“I think that sometimes the interpretation of a guy in the centre forward can come inside, but the ball goes out the top,” Oberman added. “How much time are they given to get outside? Because some might take a stroke. They might, you know, not quite get there, hang around a little bit, affect the defensive stance. It comes down to referees’ interpretation.”
About the delayed penalty call, Oberman said: “I think it's good. I agree with it. It's just again, the same thing, interpretation. So, I agree with giving the person the opportunity to go for the shot, because if they score, great, if they miss then a penalty, but again, it's that interpretation of what is considered a penalty.”
“Driving is an art. It's an art of water polo and too many times it's six on six pairs of six players and the ball just travels from one to the next to the next. This actually opens things up a bit. It's given the attacking players the opportunity to show creativity.”
Aussie Stingers captain Zoe Arancini commented: “I think some of the rules, or most of the rules that they're implementing, are good. I think there's not a very clear understanding throughout the world of what the wording, or what the interpretation is.
“When there is a penalty, I think it's a good idea to have those defenders on the six metres,” Arancini added “The only thing is that the goalkeeper gets one warning. But is that one warning in that moment, or for the whole game?”