PRICHARD: Good riddance to the shoulder charge

Greg Prichard Columnist

By , 23 Nov 2012

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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 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. He is now freelancing. Twitter: @gregprichard

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