PRICHARD: Good riddance to the shoulder charge

Greg Prichard Columnist

By Greg Prichard, Greg Prichard is a Roar Expert

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    The collective outcry from NRL players over the banning of the shoulder charge is further evidence that they must be protected from themselves.

    The NRL follows developments in the NFL more closely than ever now. It is where former CEO David Gallop took the idea for golden point from, and this move by the ARLC to ban the shoulder charge is bound to be related to what has happened with the NFL and concussions.

    The NFL has enforced strict guidelines regarding concussed players being forced to stand down from games for sometimes extended periods in recent years, and it is all to do with litigation from former players over the effects of concussions.

    The threat of lawyers assembling class actions from ex-players, alleging that the football brass in the US conspired over a period of decades to hide the effects of multiple impacts to the head from players, stung the NFL into action.

    It is only natural that the NRL, and now the ARLC, would have been keeping a close eye on those developments. American football is the closest relation to rugby league when it comes to the power of the collisions between players.

    So, as soon as the club doctors here told the commission how dangerous shoulder charges gone wrong potentially were, the tackle was on death row. Now it is dead, and good riddance to it.

    I thought leading orthopaedic surgeon Merv Cross summed the situation up perfectly when he said: “The shoulder charge doesn’t aim to tackle – it aims to hurt. If you want to go and watch that, buy a ticket for that stupid cage fighting. The game doesn’t need it.”

    Rugby league won’t suffer from the shoulder charge being banned. It won’t reduce the media coverage, the crowd attendances or the television ratings.

    What it will do is reduce the potential for unnecessary and serious injuries.

    Players have complained that the decision compromises the physical nature of the game and that they may as well as be playing badminton or, apparently, marbles.

    Perhaps they should watch a game of marbles more closely.

    When one of those big “bodgies” crashes into another at speed, that’s quite a collision.

    We don’t really see that many shoulder charges for a number of reasons.

    One, it’s hard to actually pull off properly, and if you get it wrong you either make contact with the opposing player’s head, or miss him altogether and leave a hole in the defensive line.

    You’ve got to be in a particular position to even think about trying one. The ball-carrier must step straight into your path for you to be able to go for the big hit.

    Or you can be like Chris Sandow, the Parramatta halfback, and simply enjoy trying to shoulder charge opponents. He hasn’t had much luck with it to date.

    There is an element of macho-ness to it for the players, but when you get a shoulder charge like the one by South Sydney’s Greg Inglis on St George Illawarra’s Dean Young last season, it’s sickening.

    It is worth trying to get rid of that from the game.

    Young’s father, Craig, was a very hard man in a very tough era of the game, the 1970s and ‘80s. He knows the risks of playing, and he wouldn’t react just because his son was hurt.

    He believes the commission has done the right thing.

    “The players are the most important part of the game and their safety is paramount,” Young said. “You’ve got to look after them. But I’m sure there will be no shortage of big hits in the future. It’s the greatest game of all and will continue to be that way.”

    You simply must listen when someone like Young talks like that.

    It has emerged that, while the players are complaining long and loud now, they provided very little input to Brian Canavan’s independent report on the shoulder charge on behalf of the commission despite being invited to email their opinions to him.

    That is disappointing, but not unusual. Some coaches are the same.

    The commission could have left the shoulder charge alone and simply ramped up the penalties for head contact even more, further dissuading players from trying their luck with the tackle. That wouldn’t have been enough.

    What if someone was seriously injured, or, worse still, as Cross suggested could happen – killed – and the league was sued? It could have been argued that they didn’t do enough to prevent something like that from happening.

    The game will survive without the shoulder charge, just like it doesn’t miss stiff-arm tackles.

    Greg Prichard has worked in the media for 35 years, most recently at The Sydney Morning Herald. In 2011, he won the Australian Sports Commission’s award for best reporting of an issue in sport for his stories on the NRL betting scandal. He joins The Roar as the site’s resident rugby league expert. This is his first column for the site.

    Greg Prichard
    Greg Prichard

    Greg Prichard has spent all of his working life in the media, from way back when journalists were still using typewriters. He has covered rugby league, football, AFL and various other sports for News Limited and Fairfax newspapers and also worked for magazines, radio and pay television. Twitter: @gregprichard

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    The Crowd Says (72)

    • November 23rd 2012 @ 2:16am
      Johnno said | November 23rd 2012 @ 2:16am | ! Report

      -This is a good move. Main reason is role models and image of the sport of rugby league. Parents or soccer moms as many are known will not want there kids to play sport with massive shoulder charges modern parents. The 80’s are over guys and so are the 70’s.

      -Even thought he shoulder charge is a very small percentage hit, the players are getting bigger and stronger and the hits when they do connect to the head are sickening. Should be taken out of the game.

      -Although the argument is it should be taken out at junior footy and amateur footy but kept for the elite level, the NRL and English super league.

      -These are consenting adults here, like boxing. No one forces you to go into the ring with Mike Tyson if you don’t want too. Same in rugby league if you don’t want to cop a hit from Frank Pritchard or Sam Kasiano or SBW don’t play at the elite level where you get paid, there is that adult right’s argument. But i think the ARLC fear they will lose more juniors and market share $$$$ as less kids will take up sport.

      Only a few years ago SBW was in prime time marketing smashing joel clinton how those times have changed, and he smashed joey johns too. But now the ARLC view the shoulder charge differently. And don’t want the NRL legal stuff happening in the future.

      The G-force of the shoulder charge (measured from accelerometer data taken from GPS tracking) was 76 per cent greater than a conventional head-on tackle (10.682 compared with 6.056). That’s a massive statistic .

      -The Frank Pritchard earlier in the year and the GI shoulder charge on Dean Young were awful that wasn’t entertainment, that was dangerous.

    • November 23rd 2012 @ 6:22am
      Jimbo Jones said | November 23rd 2012 @ 6:22am | ! Report

      I just hope that the NRL can police this properly, and not punish the tackler if the ball carrier slips down onto their shoulder.

    • Roar Guru

      November 23rd 2012 @ 7:04am
      steve b said | November 23rd 2012 @ 7:04am | ! Report

      Great article Greg , may common sense prevail , but get ready for the onslaught of defenders for this no need tackle . I have supported the call for this tackle to be banned for years finally it’s happening . I have seen the results of this tackle when it goes wrong first hand and it changed my mind for ever . But i think unless it has happened to someone close to you its very hard to change peoples mind on the dangers of this tackle , it is only designed to hurt and nothing more . and yes im with you good riddance and if the players have to be protected from themselves so be it , i just hope the commish stand tuff on their decision ..

      • November 23rd 2012 @ 12:01pm
        kid said | November 23rd 2012 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

        I agree in principle but have a few questions,
        1. Would you ban attacking players from leading with their shoulder? (eg Grant’s first hit up of SOO smashing petro)
        2. Would you penalise a player who is late with the arms, shoulder first arms later? – seems to me like a copybook head-on tackle
        3. How late are late arms? The front on style shoulder charges often do involve arms after momentum of the player is reduced.
        I hate grey areas in the rules (like the obstruction farce) I fear we might get one with this new rule.

    • November 23rd 2012 @ 7:36am
      Luke said | November 23rd 2012 @ 7:36am | ! Report

      You only have to look at YouTube to see how popular the shoulder charge is. It is different in union when the forwards run with their head over the ball so they can plant it behind them. In league it’s the player running with the ball choice as to whether to avoid a shoulder charge. This ban lessons the contest and will make the NRL a little be boring, knowing there will be no big shoulder charges. Sure ban it from juniors but not the nrl

      • November 23rd 2012 @ 8:55am
        Mals said | November 23rd 2012 @ 8:55am | ! Report

        Ummm don’t quite follow this reasoning. It is the ball carrier’s duty to avoid the shoulder charge eh?? SBW use to be a specialist at blindsiding a ball carrier by coming in with the shoulder charge on an angled run.

        • November 23rd 2012 @ 11:28am
          FrancisC said | November 23rd 2012 @ 11:28am | ! Report

          I don’t quite follow his logic there too. I for one has children and they love rugby league and I don’t want any of my children ending up on a wheelchair because a shoulder charge that has gone wrong. Really who benefits from these shoulder charges? No one! It might look good (for egos sake) but it can seriously hurt someone.

          Again, if the person/player ends up in the wheelchair for life or has brain damage, who suffers? First, the person himself/herself, the parents, their loved ones, and the list goes on. This is a good decision by the NRL. Funny enough when the bugger of a paper called the DT has an article re: shoulder charge about two or three months ago and I expressed my exact same sentiment above. It never got published. I wonder why.

          • December 3rd 2012 @ 9:46am
            John said | December 3rd 2012 @ 9:46am | ! Report

            Sorry, how many people have ended up in a wheelchair for life or have brain damage over a shoulder charge?
            I don’t think banning the shoulder charge is the right way to go. Having tough penalties with any contact with the head is an obvious alternative. The shoulder charge in itself is not wrong. I am sure a lot more players are hurt by head high tackles not originating from a shoulder charge.

        • November 23rd 2012 @ 6:45pm
          Minz said | November 23rd 2012 @ 6:45pm | ! Report

          This sounds like the same argument which was being made in ice hockey – “it’s the puck carrier’s fault if he gets blind-sided, he should have his head up”. Funnily enough, it got rejected in ice hockey too.

    • November 23rd 2012 @ 7:44am
      oikee said | November 23rd 2012 @ 7:44am | ! Report

      Good report. Yesterday i said we can shut up shop and all go home if the game ever starts to listen to the players.
      Even Bellamy the Storm coach, a ex-player has joined the party.
      You would think coaches would be delighted,,,,,oh great, my boys wont be getting smashed in the head anymore? Not Bellyacke, he wants to hurt them. Moron.
      They dont deserve a voice, the intelligence between the lot of them would not be enough to blow out a candle.
      Sorry Petro. 🙁

      • November 23rd 2012 @ 9:44am
        Jimbo Jones said | November 23rd 2012 @ 9:44am | ! Report

        Considering the wrestling moves that Bellamy brought into the game with the Storm, i dont know if player welfare is really a concern of his. (Of their opponents anyway)

    • November 23rd 2012 @ 8:08am
      Atawhai Drive said | November 23rd 2012 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      Another outstanding achievement by The Roar in acquiring the services of Greg Prichard.

      Fairfax’s loss is The Roar’s gain. Welcome, Greg.

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