The Roar
The Roar

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The day the punches died?

Queensland player Brent Tate punches NSW player Greg Bird in the head during State of Origin 3 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Wednesday, July 4, 2012 (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Expert
16th June, 2013
101
2193 Reads

A long, long time ago, I can still remember how those punches used to make me smile…

And I bet you smiled too. Go on, admit it. Nobody is going to judge you here, least of all me.

A biff, a stink, a brouhaha, a Donnybrook – whatever synonym ‘Rabs’ could muster, you loved them all the same.

The big ones, the small ones, the all-in-brawl ones.

That was until yesterday, when in another cruel one-on-one steal for footy’s hardmen, referees boss Daniel Anderson stripped more than a century of fisticuffs from rugby league.

Taking a proactive reaction to Paul Gallen’s pummelling of Nate Myles in Origin I after over a week of mainstream media vitriol, it has been decided to completely eradicate rugby league violence.

In a move that will be looked back on in years to come as the game’s great ‘softening’ period, it is has been decreed that any player guilty of striking will now be automatically sin binned.

Which of course means that the future of rugby league exists as some sort of hybrid touch footy/bombs up competition, where the average viewer is a 47 year old virgin sitting around in his beige pyjamas drinking a broccoli shake.

Or not.

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The furore that has surrounded the snap rule change has been an equal if opposite reaction to Gallen’s punching-on itself.

Rugby league fans are, for the second time in as many weeks, being treated as morons, particularly by the sections of the media that have nothing to do with rugby league.

For starters, since the early 80s rugby league fans have equated fighting with the sin bin, where players would be sent to ‘cool off’.

If Ashley Klein had sent Gallen to the sin bin, Myles’ bludgeoning may have got a run in the highlights. But like Michael Jennings’ punch then binning in game one 2012, it would have been soon forgotten and we might have read about Cameron Smith’s disallowed try.

As well as this, the Super League currently has an automatic yellow card for punching, and refs boss Anderson did flag modifications to the sin bin earlier in the year.

Secondly, rugby league is far from the rolling Arnie movie punch-a-thon it’s been made out to be recently.

There is the occasional fight in the NRL and representative games, sure, and the fans do like it. I’m not a psychologist – despite owning a lounge – but undoubtedly after a fight the intensity of a rugby league match will lift significantly for a five to ten minutes, and spectators benefit from that.

Plus, fights have the effect of quashing any foolish notion that you, Mr Mixed Oztag, could go out and mix it with these monsters.

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A melee? Geez I reckon even I could run onto the field, pull a few jerseys, bark a few expletives and feel tough about myself.

But when fists are connecting with faces I can guarantee you I would win by a good 400 metres.

Bringing in an automatic sin binning for throwing a punch will not change fighting in rugby league per se, because so few punches are premeditated.

Punches are thrown on the footy field in frustration, much like in real life, and it’s even easier to lose your cool in rugby league than it is sitting in the stands at Brookvale Oval watching the opposition do a forward roll for victory in extra time.

Watch a tackle, closely, live at ground level and you will see a player is twisted, poked and prodded every time they make a run. Getting up to his feet, he’ll probably be sledged, and have his hands ‘accidently’ stood on by the man moving to marker.

The new law could probably best be equated to Daniel Anderson’s early season attempts to remove any shades of grey from the obstruction, which was abandoned because no one could agree on what exactly an obstruction was, but thankfully punches are a little bit more obvious.

Simply put, it will change everything but, more likely, change nothing.

Funnily enough Rabs’ favourite term, ‘Donnybrook’, comes from the name of an Irish town, which hosted a fair each year.

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Over time the town population grew and the fair became rowdier and rowdier, before it reached a point where concerned residents felt it had become so unruly that it needed to be shut down.

By creating these new laws, rugby league’s powers are seeking to set in stone a law rugby league fans had always believed in anyway, and at the same time be seen to be doing something to curb the game’s ‘wicked ways’ for onlooking townsfolk.

There’s a good chance it will work too. And maybe we’ll all be happy.

For a while.