The Roar
The Roar

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Either send the thugs off or let the players belt them

Johnathan Thurston must be made public enemy No. 1. (Image: Dan Peled/AAP)
Expert
18th March, 2015
101
2449 Reads

Rugby league is a hard game played by hard men. I love big hits possibly more than any other aspect of the game.

I miss shoulder charges as they provided some of the best highlights. While I do recognise the inherent danger of the shoulder charge, for the most part the shoulder charges that were bad were the ones that made high contact – like Greg Inglis’ hit on Dean Young in 2012.

Those kind of shoulder charges should be treated just like any other high tackle, with send offs and suspension. The worse the high hit, the longer the suspension.

What I don’t like about rugby league is the prevalence of bullies.

Unsurprisingly, rugby league has a habit of attracting macho meatheads who have a tendency to throw their weight around and to pick on and belittle others. My experience was that guys who were big in high school and good at sport didn’t have the greatest empathy for those around them.

I knew a lot of horrid footballers while at high school and – due to my big mouth and hatred of injustice – I got some pretty rough treatment at their hands. The law of the jungle ruled. The hits were often cheap and usually unjustified.

So why do I like league so much, when I mostly don’t like footy players? Well, there were a few good ones. In year 11 a bloke called Brad Clyde turned up at my school and, although a very good player, he was actually a decent guy too.

He played hard but he played clean. He was nice to people and I never saw him bully a soul. In fact I witnessed him stop bullying. It was very easy to support him and be pleased for his achievements – of which there were many.

I’ve subsequently met a decent number of good blokes while working around the NRL.

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However, the undercurrent of brutality and bastardisation is certainly alive and well in rugby league. Sure, Jim Comans wiped out the worst of the thuggery in the early 1980s, but that just meant the thugs got sneaky.

Chicken wings, head grapples, rabbit punches, jumper punches, facials, tearing at stitches, forearms to the face, knees into arms, legs and backs, twisting legs, sly head butts and even grabbing genitals have all been used to brutalise opposition players.

There are a lot of very successful players out there today who have got there because of these traits.

They are often the enforcers. They get the job done by means foul and fair. They put attacking players off their game because they aren’t able to concentrate on the next play when they are being roughed up in the tackle.

While the powers that be have tried to clean the game up a bit recently, they only managed to get rid of two things that were actually good about the game – the shoulder charge and the stink.

As I’ve said above, I miss the shoulder charge. I also think that there is a place in the game for fisticuffs. State of Origin was built on the stink when Artie Beetson gave one of the Wynn boys an uppercut in the scrum.

Personally I love gathering all the best players in the NRL together three times a year to play each other and hopefully we’ll see a good fight. Who can forget the “cattledog” call of Origin 3 in 1997, which saw Jamie Goddard punch blue blazes out of Andrew Johns? Or the all in of Game 2 in 1995? How about Steve Walters trying to constantly punch out Benny Elias?

But that’s all gone now. Ironically because Paul Gallen was trying to make it clear to Nate Myles that if he wanted to keep roughing him and his team up with cheap shots (which Myles had been engaging in constantly) then Gal was going to punch him hard in that enormous melon. And punch him he did. And didn’t the public outrage flow!

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All of a sudden the knee jerked and an edict went forth that if you threw a punch then you would be sent off for ten minutes. Further, you might get a suspension to boot.

Nate Myles truly deserved those punches. To his credit the man himself didn’t say otherwise.

I’d also say that if one of the Cowboys had gone and thumped Beau Scott on Saturday night it would have been fair enough. Scott’s brutal attacks on Thurston deserved punishment. Cam Smith said that exact thing. When the Kangaroo captain Cam Smith calls you out, you best be listening Mr Scott – even if Todd Greenberg reckons the whole thing was fine…

If we wanted to watch MMA we would have. These late hits and sneaky acts of thuggery aren’t football and anyone who tries to tell you they are is trying to justify bullying.

So how do you fix it? Well the whistleblowers must keenly watch out for the cheap shots and bastardry – and then penalise and report the players who do it.

Further, they must grow some balls and start sin binning players when the players actions merit it. In the 34 games played in the Super Rugby so far this year, there have been 25 yellow cards handed out.

They are for repeated infringements and foul play. If you cheat or act like a thug you go sit down for ten. If you do it again you are off for good.

I have no idea why rugby league doesn’t do the same thing. There wouldn’t have been 25 sin bins in the NRL in the last three seasons combined. By not doing it, they are sending the message to the perpetrators that they are free to act with impunity.

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Star players are targeted, vile tactics are used to put players off and sides routinely perform professional fouls so they might slow the play down and reform their line.

It’s time the refs really used the bin. If instituting a five-minute sin-bin would help precipitate this then they should do it. Like in the EPL, once a player clocks up a predetermined number of penalties then they should be suspended for a match.

It would help stop cheap shots, targeting and routine cheating.

In last weekend’s Warriors-Raiders match there were two pieces of blatant cheating that clearly deserved the bin. Jarrad Kennedy deliberately held down Manu Vatuvei when a quick play the ball would have almost certainly resulted in a try. Further, a Warriors player tackled Wighton when he was running a dead ball back to the 22 for a quick tap.

Both were cynical, professional fouls. Neither were adequately punished. Both made the game less of a spectacle. For the second week in a row the Knights won a match in spite of losing the penalty count. Scott belting Thurston out of the game only cost the Knights a penalty. It cost the Cowboys their playmaker.

Bizarrely, if a Cowboy player had gone and given Scott the belting he so richly deserved they would have been sin binned.

Basically, Mr Greenberg and Mr Archer, you either need to crack down on grubby play by using the bin or you’ve got to let the players administer their own justice. To do neither suggests you’ve lost the plot.