‘Them’s the rules’ is an awful excuse.
I get why the shoulder charge needed to be banned. I didn’t like it at first but I get it. Shoulder charges can be a high risk, poorly controlled method of tackling.
Players were getting injured and as awareness of the consequences of head trauma increased it wasn’t tenable for the game to allow this tackle to continue.
Instead of carefully weighing up the best way to minimise the risk while maintaining the integrity of the game, the NRL impulsively jerked its knee and implemented a one-size-fits-all ban on the shoulder charge.
A grade one shoulder charge carries a 200-point penalty. That’s two games, pending discounts for early guilty pleas, for anything that’s deemed to be a shoulder charge.
The absurdity is that the shoulder charge was banned to prevent concussions, yet a shoulder charge that makes absolutely no contact with the head stills gets 200 points.
But wait, it gets worse.
A grade one careless high tackle carries zero points and ‘just’ a $1,500 fine as a penalty. A grade two careless is 150 points.
You’ve got to get to a grade three careless high tackle to get to 200 points which is the same as a grade one shoulder charge.
The problem with this is a high tackle is defined by the NRL as “contact with the head or neck” yet there are two gradings of ‘head high’ tackles which are deemed better – in this era of concussion awareness – than any shoulder to shoulder contact shoulder charge.
If we’re trying to minimise the risk of players sustaining head trauma and concussion injuries how is it that a tackle defined by its contact to the head has to get to a grade three before it’s treated as seriously as ANY shoulder charge, regardless of where contact is made?
Every week we see high tackles where the on-field penalty is deemed sufficient.
Billy Slater threw his body at Sosaia Feki to stop him scoring. It was a shoulder charge. No doubt about it. The arm was tucked and he led with the shoulder. It was brilliant.
In the 2011 Four Nations Tournament, Slater shattered his collarbone in five places performing a similar tackle before it was outlawed.
The bravery to do it again, albeit seven years later, is almost unfathomable. But the game was on the line. Isn’t this exactly what we want from our heroes?
Slater didn’t make contact with Feki’s head.
He didn’t put Feki at risk of concussion – which is why the shoulder charge was outlawed in the first place.
He doesn’t deserve to miss a game – let alone a grand final – let alone his last ever NRL game.
Slater has played 318 NRL games. He sits second in the all-time leading try scorers list.
He’s won a Dally M, two Churchill medals and a golden boot as the world’s best player. He’s the best fullback I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t deserve to go out like this.
But all that is irrelevant. It’s not just about Billy’s fairytale, a rookie in his first season wouldn’t deserve this.
With an ill-considered, knee-jerk response rule the NRL has put itself in a position where it either needs to rub out one of its greatest players for his final game or compromise the integrity of their judicial system.
Worse again, is that regardless of which path it takes the NRL has hijacked the grand final lead up with its own incompetence. Again, no win.
The answer was so simple, ban the shoulder charge.
All shoulder charges attract an on-field penalty and a fine but only shoulder charges that make contact with the head attract a suspension.
Make it a massive suspension. Make it four or five or six weeks. That was the behaviour we were trying to eradicate from the game – not tackles like Slater’s.
That tackle should never have been made illegal, it’s what the game is all about.
I hope the NRL, the match review committee, and the judiciary find a way to get Slater off. I hope they find the intestinal fortitude to change this ill-conceived rule.
I want to see Billy Slater play one last time and for to have the farewell he deserves, win, lose or golden point.
I don’t want to see anyone else rubbed out for displaying the selfless courage our game demands.
Now, let’s talk about the seven-tackle restart rule…