NRL’s overreaction to Paul Gallen’s punch

Con Scortis Roar Guru

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    The reaction to Paul Gallen’s series of innocuous punches has certainly led to a hysterical reaction from some quarters of the game.

    The erudite and sardonic Eleanor Kite’s (hopefully tongue-in-cheek) opinion piece questioned the future and integrity of the game, while the normally on-the-money Curtis Woodward was lamenting the death of the game as we know it.

    Another Rookie believes our great game is heading towards a game more akin to touch footy (more on that later).

    There’s been a lot written about the act itself and I don’t want to rehash the various arguments here. Understandably, a lot of fans are angry at David Smith’s misguided rule change – no doubt spurred on by some frenzied sections of the media.

    However, the reality is that David Smith was reacting not to the violence exhibited by Gallen in striking Myles – for, as Gallen himself points out, this has been part of Origin since the concept began (indeed, I would add that it has been part of the game since 1908).

    No, what Smith and Anderson were reacting to was not the violence, but the lack of action by referees (notably Matt Cecchin) in relation to that violence.

    Let’s be very clear: punching an opponent during a game has always been banned in rugby league and players who have broken this law have usually suffered the consequences of their actions.

    Consequently, Gallen’s punch was nothing new – players have been belting each other since Dally Messenger strapped on his boots.

    The following is the actual wording from the rugby league rulebook, Section 15, Law 1 (a), Page 38:

    4. Vicious palm

    The Code: The ball-carrier cannot “thrust” out an arm to contact the defender above the shoulder

    Application: It is an infringement for the ball-carrier to violently punch, thrust out an arm or use an outstretched stiff arm so as to make contact with the hand or fist to the defending player’s head, neck or face.” (This section does not state that a player cannot legitimately ‘palm’ the head, neck or face).

    While the wording is a little old-fashioned, the intention is clear: you cannot punch or strike a player in a game, and if you do so you are subject to certain proscribed penalties.

    Of course, the penalties come in various guises, depending on the severity of the “thrust”: it may be as little as a penalty to the opposition team, or 10 minutes in the bin, or at worst a send-off.

    Furthermore, nowadays the player would most likely be placed on report and, just as in days gone by, would possibly spend a stint on the sidelines.

    What Paul Gallen did in Origin 1 was nothing new – players have belted each other in ordinary and representative games before, and they most certainly will in the future. What was questionable in Origin 1 was the fact that Gallen stayed on the field and didn’t enjoy a 10 minute break.

    Most fans I’ve spoken to, including mad Blue’s fans, would not have objected had Cecchin sent him to the bin for a spell.

    I would even go so far as to argue that, although Gallen was dirty over being suspended for a week, I’d be surprised if he would have been equally angry had he been sent to the bin for 10.

    It’s most likely he would have copped that on the chin with no complaint (after all, players have been sent to the bin in Origin before, such as Jennings last year, and even the Immortal “King” Wally Lewis has been given a spell – although, he was less than happy at the time).

    Arguably, had Cecchin sent Gallen off for 10 we wouldn’t be arguing over this issue still.

    Everyone would have woken up on the Thursday morning after the game talking about Gallen’s punch, but we would have quickly moved on in anticipation of Origin 2, just as we did after Jennings’ (admittedly different) strike last year.

    Which brings me back to Smith and Anderson’s new rule.

    As far as striking goes, all the NRL had to do was instruct the referees to enforce the existing rule. Instruct the men in pink to make a decision on the ground, taking into account the merits of the incident and, most importantly, have the guts to send a player to the bin if their action deserves that punishment.

    And then move on.

    However, the new rule, where the refs are seemingly required to immediately send a player off for striking, is a bridge too far.

    As the ruling is worded, it is potentially a gross overreaction to what I regard as nothing more than a poor refereeing decision.

    Rather than applying the new rule to the letter – which could have unintended consequences – hopefully refs use their common sense and make their own judgement call – just as referees have been doing successfully for the past 100 years.

    Before closing off, the final aspect I want to mention is the notion – expressed by a great many fans – that we’re turning the game of rugby league into a game for sissies.

    I firmly believe that anyone who believes this is showing considerable disrespect to the players and a disregard for how brutal the game really is.

    When I see two 120-kilogram giants slamming into each other with such ferocity that I can hear the collision from the grandstand; when I watch Sammie Burgess charging without fear at a defensive brick wall; when I see a player slammed into the turf with sufficient power to knock out normal mortal; I know that these footballers are made of far sterner stuff than I.

    Does the ban on punching make these players any less tough? Will it turn the game into netball or a game of touch footy, as some fans have argued? Of course it won’t!

    In the old days boxing troupes of professional fighters would travel to mining and farming towns in country Australia, offering cash prizes to locals who were prepared to “go a round” with a fighter in the ring.

    I would suggest to anyone who questions the toughness and commitment of our players to also “go a round” with some of today’s players. I reckon most wouldn’t last a set of six.

    If you could choose from any and every NRL player in the competition, who would you pick in your rugby league dream team? Let us know with our team picker right here, and be sure to share it with all your league-loving mates.

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    The Crowd Says (5)

    • June 19th 2013 @ 7:50am
      Clevo said | June 19th 2013 @ 7:50am | ! Report

      The most mass hysteria I’ve ever seen.

      And you know what if a qld punches on now and gets sin binned under the new rules I don’t trust the lunatics in Queensland not to stage a full blown riot at suncorp.

    • June 19th 2013 @ 10:10am
      Positive Rugby said | June 19th 2013 @ 10:10am | ! Report

      Assault is a criminal offence. A long series of criminal offences including assault are committed by ARL players and you still can’t see the link? God help your poor little (but great) game.

    • June 19th 2013 @ 4:33pm
      up in the north said | June 19th 2013 @ 4:33pm | ! Report

      Thanks Con, hopefully one day eventually the refs will be perfect. Until then I guess we are stuck with what we’ve got.
      I still blame the media for a lot of rugby leagues ills, during games the poor old pea blower gets scrutinized like no other. How comfortable it is to sit back and watch with 50 different camera angles and criticise the men in pink.
      I hope that a bit of common sense will be used in carrying out this new edict from RLHQ, but it would be asking a lot.

    • June 19th 2013 @ 7:58pm
      Gavin Cooper said | June 19th 2013 @ 7:58pm | ! Report

      Sensationalists and bleeding hearts make so much noise they get all the attention, its like their 15 minutes of fame. Its up to the real fans of rugby league to make more noise and become the “squeaky wheel” to get the “oil” I.E. their way and stop the game becoming touch footy.

    • June 20th 2013 @ 11:38am
      Meesta Cool said | June 20th 2013 @ 11:38am | ! Report

      The only people who suffered by Meesta Gallen’s pre planned attack on Meesta Myles were the Sharkies fans, having to watch their team play the current League Champs without their undoubted leader.

      Was it fair to ban him from a league game for a ‘sin’ committed in a SOO game, IMO the penalty should have been given at this coming SOO game. — Roarers and press are always commenting that SOO is a different game, then why do league team and fans cop it for players indiscretions in these games?.

      Penalties incurred in Rep games should be served in Rep games.

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