It happened to Cooper Cronk against South Sydney in the finals last year and against Brisbane this year.
It happened to Kayln Ponga against the Roosters this week.
Playmakers getting hit late is happening, and the reason it is happening comes down to three potential possibilities.
Firstly, the punishments for the offenders are too light to get it out of the game. Secondly, the game is going soft and the Ponga tackle was a legitimate hit, or thirdly, the rules are allowing these late hits to happen.
The answers lie between the first and the third options. The second option of this being a legitimate tackle is only for those who don’t understand sport and rugby league.
Let’s briefly explain it. When a playmaker passes the ball or kicks it, his body naturally ‘goes soft’. There is no brace for impact. So when he gets hit, there will be a whiplash effect, and a strain on the body that wasn’t expecting the hit.
This happens when the hit comes later than what is expected, as it did with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves on Ponga on the weekend.
Let’s get to the solutions.
In rugby league, players need to be protected. Rugby league 20 years ago went very hard on the spear tackle. Great. Anything above the horizontal was dealt with. Eradicating the spear tackle had to happen. And it was.
The head slam was next. This wasn’t tough, getting a couple in the tackle and slamming the player so the back of his head hit the ground hard. This was dangerous. Rugby league got rid of it. Well done.
Next must be these cheap shots. So what have we learned from the spear tackle and the head slam is this: Going in with clear rules and harsh punishments changed something that was in the game for many years.
It changed the culture of the sport to eradicate things harmful to the players. It didn’t make it softer, but it reduced the chances of head and neck injuries. Sadly in the Alex McKinnon case, in a contact sport serious injuries can happen.
But it can also be argued it wasn’t dirty play that caused the injury, rather an unfortunate tackle that didn’t end well. Protecting its players is something the sport must do. Rugby league has been conscience of over the years, and must continue to do so.
The main reason though we still have problems with late hits, is the rules allow it to happen. Someone at the NRL has come up with a blanket rule that has made things worse and not better for playmakers.
Now, as long as players wrap their arms around the kicker, they can virtually come as late as they want and make a tackle. Big men can stand behind the ‘but what if he didn’t kick and ran past me’ argument that is basically a load of nonsense.
In the case of Waerea-Hargraves, he had two metres to see the ball was kicked where he could have pulled out at any time, but instead decided to line up a defenceless player and smash him. It’s not tough, it’s the opposite of tough. Its weak.
Andrew Johns was very harsh on Tevita Pangai when he got Cooper Cronk late in the Roosters versus Broncos game in early April. Johns called it for what it was, a ‘dog shot’. Hitting a player not looking is not on. Johns was vocal, after a while all went quiet, and then the Ponga tackle happens.
It will happen again if nothing gets done about it.
The solution lies in the hands of the NRL. Penalties, harsh suspensions and getting rid of a rule that more or less gives big forwards a free shot at the opposition play maker are the answers. Get strict on it, and don’t allow for weak excuses.
Its not hard to see when a player is too late. So there is a problem, it’s now time to finally fix it.