Protect ya neck: NRL’s high shot blues
When I Google myself, I am sick and tired of coming up with page after page of rugby league players being carted off to hospital. This issue is close to my heart and I want it sorted.
Even the NRL’s critics and detractors admit that the game of rugby league is tough.
The distilled toughness of rugby league has been investigated as an outer coating for use on the space shuttle, as a building material for use in earthquake prone cities and toothpaste manufacturers are looking into it.
The toughness of the game and the courage of the players are among the NRL’s appealing characteristics, especially to casual fans who perhaps thirst for the long-gone era when their own preferred sport was more gladiatorial in nature.
It’s often remarked that this is a double edged sword. Mrs Suburbia doesn’t want her precious Jonny Headgear to be ironed out by a Ben Te’o brain-snap (he calls his tackling technique “the Brainsnapper”), a Greg Inglis brick wall to the chin or a Nate Myles/Richard Villasanti ‘Gee That Looked A Lot Like A Flying Headbutt’ manoeuvre.
The chances of any of those players actually playing against Jonny aren’t great but parental instinct is strong and the thought of that kind of violence just doesn’t appeal.
I know when my daughters are ready to play league I’ll be telling them about the old “take a cricket bat out there with you” trick I learned in Under 7’s. The lifetime ban was worth it – I was unstoppable that day.
So, a casual fan and a concerned parent will have a slightly different take on some of the tackles we’ve seen over this weekend.
Travis Burns, Greg Inglis, Ben Te’o and a few others are going to have to hope that whatever god Sam Kasiano prays to also listens to their prayers as well. I don’t like their chances.
Talk of banning the shoulder charge is in vogue once again. I can see the arguments from both sides. The ‘keep them’ camp says “Hey. It’s rugby league. The shoulder charge stays.” The ‘bin them’ camp says “Hey. It’s rugby league. The game is tough enough without them.”
Both sides cite the example of rugby union’s banning of the big hit. Says the anti-shoulder charge advocate: “You see? Union is still the same without it!” – the pro-shoulder charge advocate replies: “Exactly!”
Banning the shoulder charge is not going to stop head high tackles, especially accidental ones. But some of the impacts are truly frightening at times and if any player is ever permanently incapacitated by a shoulder charge you can bet rugby league will be the big loser.
“Why don’t all the players wear headgear” you definitely didn’t ask. Well, those bits of foam rubber aren’t much good except for protecting NRL players’ famous good looks and to hide a wingnut’s flapping ears. I won’t name names.
Helmets etc aren’t the answer either. There’s been recent research that shows the wearing of a helmet in the NFL actually encourages the use of the head as a weapon. If someone like Matt Utai came charging in with intent to use his considerable head as a weapon, just picture where he’d be striking. I think I’d rather have my face smashed in, thanks.
My solution was going to be to make use of recent advances in science. Why not coat a player’s head in the new Nano-material that allows light to pass through it? A player’s head becomes effectively invisible. He can then paint his face onto his chest and thus defending players will aim for that instead.
Great idea, you didn’t say. Well, it’s a rubbish idea you fool! Accidents will still happen.
Then it hit me – the answer has been there all this time: redefine.
If we just took a moment to change the rule, the problem goes away. Define a high tackle as anything above the attacking player’s head.
It will work. Players don’t attempt a tackle by clumsily smiting the vacant space above an attacking player’s head, so the risk of a high tackle under the new rule is almost zero.
Any tackles that hit a player in his face, head or neck are now legal, removing the need to penalise it or put it on report.
We can then spend our days worrying about the important issues of the code: whether we should get rid of the corner posts, the appropriateness of try scoring celebrations and whether Ryan James has ever been to the barbers.
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