Anyone who watched the Sharks play the Raiders on Sunday night came away knowing one thing: neither side is going to win the premiership this season. While the Raiders rightly won the match, both sides offered up unconvincing and error-riddled performances.
When you compare their performances to those of the Rabbitohs and Roosters, the two sides that did battle at Shark Park are still a long way off the pace.
Two of the major talking points were Ben Barba’s very average performance and Jack Wighton’s very good one.
However, the biggest issue was the stink between Sosia Feki and Jack Wighton. Most were wondering why Feki got binned at all, as Wighton threw the first punch and Feki connected with none of his.
To be fair to the ref, the rule doesn’t say you have to land a punch, just to throw one. Still, Feki and the Sharks fans were puzzled – to put it mildly – by the ruling.
What puzzled me, however, was why Wighton would start a fight – especially when his side was in possession?
I’ve been closely watching the kid from Orange since I first noticed him in the Raiders under-20s in 2012. He shows no fear. In fact, he’s clearly up for the physical side of the game; he thrives on it, enjoying tough and brutal football. I’ve seen Wighton targeted for special treatment and not get rattled. I was metres away from him when he broke his leg and he wore it stoically.
So why did he punch Feki?
Ricky Stuart put the incident down to Jack’s inexperience, saying that he isn’t yet afforded the same luxuries/respect as the game’s star fullbacks.
“If Jack Wighton was Greg Inglis or Billy Slater that wouldn’t have happened last night, because the niggle wouldn’t have been there,” Stuart told The Canberra Times.
What exactly constitutes niggle? Is it verbal? Did Sosia call Jack’s Mum a rude name? Was it violent? Was there a sneaky facial or punch thrown in? Don’t bother asking The Raiders. They are definitively leaving it on the field.
I had a good look at the video and, while Feki certainly went on with the tackle to the point that the ref probably should have blown up a penalty, I reckon what may have sent Jack off was that Wade Graham may have grabbed his genitals.
Have a close look at the video and you’ll see Graham’s hand go right in between Wighton’s legs.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if another bloke yanks on my meat and two veg it’s pretty much guaranteed to set me right off. If I was carrying the ball and my crown jewels came under attack I’d probably drop the pill to protect them. Even if I didn’t, I may well come up looking for retribution. I’d be so furious that I might clock the first bloke in front of me.
Of course, the refs may well not see the tackler grabbing a blokes schvantz but they’ll almost certainly see the resulting punch. They’ll then sin bin the poor bloke who just got his trouser snake violated.
There is a chance that this is what happened on Sunday night.
The twist was that Wighton hit Feki, not Graham. Feki, unsurprisingly, retaliated – or at least tried to. While both players spent 10 minutes on the pine, the Sharks got the penalty, took the shot at goal and took the lead.
The big question is whether Graham meant to grab Wighton’s John Thomas, if he did get a piece of it at all. There would seem to be plenty of room for reasonable doubt. Lots of tackles are made and in this one Graham just grabbed the wrong piece of meat. Accidents do happen. But so does niggle.
Maybe Graham thought a great way to put young Jack off his game was to get brutal with his chicken skin. The only people who are likely to know the truth are Graham and Jack Wighton. You can be fairly sure that Graham will deny it and the Raiders have no comment to make on the subject whatsoever.
In fact they have no comment even though there are a number of photos from Sunday’s game circulating that show Sharks captain Paul Gallen with his hands on Raiders players’ genitals. Now while these could well be accidental as well, that is not one, or two but three instances of Sharks players grabbing Raider penis.
To once more paraphrase Oscar Wilde, ‘To grab one penis may be regarded as misfortune, to grab two looks like carelessness. But to grab three?’
Let’s also remember that back in 2008 Gallen was accused by Titans forward Josh Graham of grabbing his testicles. “He grabbed my ‘wheels’ and gave them a bit of squeeze, 100 per cent,” Graham told News Limited at the time. “He didn’t just grab one ‘wheel.’ He grabbed the whole package and it hurt.”
Gallen angrily denied the accusation, “I definitely didn’t do it. They are doing their best to hammer me. The match review committee cleared me.”
Gallen was let off because of lack of evidence. Greg McCallum said Gallen was not charged because they couldn’t see any evidence of a “squeeze or grab”.
Titans then-chief executive Michael Searle said, “Maybe we will give him the benefit of the doubt. It might have been accidental.”
What wasn’t deemed to be accidental from that game was Gallen tearing at Anthony Laffranchi’s stitches.
But now there are two more pictures of Gallen with his hands on opposition players’ genitals. Does he still get the benefit of the doubt?
Deliberately grabbing a person’s genitals without their consent is assault, plain and simple. It is worse than throwing a punch on the footy field. It is vile behaviour that only scum would engage in.
However, lots of people just find it funny that players have had their tackle grabbed, whether it may be accidental or not. Beau Ryan tweeted the photo of Gallen with his hands down Josh Hodgson’s shorts with the words “When @PaulGallen13 gets angry, he goes nuts…”
— Beau Ryan (@therealbeauryan) March 8, 2015
To which Gallen replied “thanks MATE I think if u see it not in freeze frame there is nothing in it.”
@therealbeauryan thanks MATE I think if u see it not in freeze frame there is nothing in it.
— Paul Gallen (@PaulGallen13) March 9, 2015
There were a whole bunch of following tweets that made light of the situation after that.
I’ve discussed the issue with a number of people this week and the reaction of each one has been exactly the same: they laughed.
That’s right, a bloke getting smashed in the Jatz Crackers is hilarious. And it is funny when it isn’t you – or it isn’t one of your team’s players and it doesn’t cost you points, or even the match. One of the blokes I talked to said “it was just part of the game.”
Well think about it this way: two sides are playing a mixed netball game and the male goal defence on one side grabs the opposition goal attack’s lady parts to put her off. Is that funny? Is that part of the game? You can bet that there would be a good likelihood of a sexual assault charge as a result. But when it is a bloke on bloke it is somehow funny or perhaps something that can be described as just niggle?
If Wighton, Kennedy and Hodgson were deliberately grabbed, should they just suck it up and wait to become big stars, because big stars don’t get that done to them? Should they just eat some concrete and harden up?
Was John Hopoate trying to put his digit up the backsides of opposition players just part of the game? How is it different at all to attacking a players genitals?
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. The Raiders may genuinely think that there is nothing in any of these incidents, and if so it should be put to bed. However, if they believe that the Sharks players were engaging in these tactics deliberately, then they morally must speak out to ensure that it is dealt with.
If deliberate, grabbing a bloke’s parts to try and gain advantage are the tactics of vile, bottom-feeding animals.
It isn’t acceptable or funny and the NRL needs to stamp it – and any players who engage in it – out immediately.