End of shoulder charge means NRL is getting soft

Ben Pobjie Columnist

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    After a career that's seen him represent Samoa and Queensland, Ben Te'o is on the verge of playing for England. (AAP Image/Action Photographics/Charles Knight)

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    I have been terribly worried. As a lover of sport, it is always a concern when developments suggest that one of my beloved sports may find itself imploding.

    Not just imploding, but sucking itself down the drain of irrelevance, collapsing from triumph and might to a state of decay and degradation, to become ranked among the Greco-Roman wrestlings and dwarf-tossings of the world.

    True sportophiles live in a state of constant fear that all they hold dear may be taken away.

    I felt my fears being realised when I read of the Ben Te’o affair, which has brought forth a terrible spectre: the chance that we may – oh, it’s painful to even type it – we may lose the shoulder charge from the game.

    And good God, wouldn’t that be the last straw? After all the tinkering and fiddling with the game we’ve seen over the years – a change to the stripping the ball rule here, an introduction of golden point there, a failure to force Ray Warren to retire in the middle – it would just be the final fly in the ointment, the last intolerable cockroach turd in the Mars Bar, if we were to lose the shoulder charge.

    Because after all, it’s the shoulder charge that makes rugby league such a rough, tough, knockabout, manly, piratical game to begin with. Without the shoulder charge, rugby league would basically just be netball with more sexual ambiguity.

    Take the shoulder charge away, and what are you supposed to do to a player running at you with the ball? Tackle him? With your arms? Yeah, great suggestion, grandma!

    I hardly think that a game full of people making actual tackles would be in the spirit of Dally Messenger. The great appeal of rugby league is that it has always been a real man’s man’s game, a game for the gruff no-nonsense inner woodchopper residing within us all.

    Rugby league is not a game for tacklers, it’s a game for people who can’t be bothered tackling, who consider tackling beneath them, who have the guts and grit to avoid tackling their opponent in favour of attempting to run into them like a blind dog crashing into the fridge, half missing, and allowing them to skip away through the defensive line while that big tough manly man goes spinning away harmlessly.

    Tackling, frankly, is for sissies.

    Just ask Ben Te’o, who gave moving testimony in his defence, saying he had simply tried to “hit him hard”.

    Exactly. That’s what our great game is all about – hitting people. Hard. Hard, brutal, inefficient hitting is the heart and soul of rugby league, and without it, watch the crowds plummet.

    The spectators will all rush off to watch the GWS Giants in the AFL, a competition where you’re not only allowed to shoulder charge, you can actually jump on other men’s backs. No contest.

    Sure, some people might say that shoulder charges can be “dangerous”, but isn’t being a rugby league player inherently dangerous anyway? Being a rugby league player’s girlfriend certainly is: fact is, it’s a dangerous game. If there isn’t a genuine threat of serious incapacitating injury occurring within the rules of the game, who cares?

    No, no, we must not ban the shoulder charge. In fact, we should go the other way and ban regulation tackling. Make it a rule that you can only tackle via shoulder charge. That’ll sort the men from the boys.

    Watch the bidding war for TV rights head skyward after every NRL game becomes a huge, frenetic human pinball game, massive men hurtling up and down the field, careening off each other, stopping only to have neck braces applied and count the trainer’s fingers. It’d be like a slightly slower, slightly more confusing version of ice hockey.

    We could of course take things further, in our efforts to bring out the animal nature of rugby league that is too often hidden behind a veil of quick footwork and metrosexuality. If players not only apply shoulder charges, but wear metallic spiked shoulder pads while doing so, the frisson of danger injected into the game would be positively riveting.

    Arming the players would help even more: if a shoulder charge is exciting, imagine how much more exciting it’d be if players could coathanger each other with golf clubs!

    There are many other ways to spice the NRL up – catapults, envenomed boots, trained dogs and so forth – but the first step must be to preserve the shoulder charge.

    The commission must throw out Te’o’s charge entirely, enshrine the shoulder charge in legislation, and snap-freeze Ray Warren in liquid nitrogen.

    Do it now, or lose our great game forever.

    Ben Pobjie
    Ben Pobjie

    Ben Pobjie is a writer & comedian writing on The Age, New Matilda and The Roar, whose promising rugby career was tragically cut short the day he stopped playing rugby and had a pizza instead. The most he has ever cried was the day Balmain lost the 1989 grand final. Today he enjoys watching Wallabies, Swans, baggy greens, and Storms.

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