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There’s plenty going on outside the State of Origin bubble

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Expert
9th July, 2019
25

Are you a State of Origin agnostic? Can’t get fired up about cockroaches or cane toads?

Do you live in Melbourne, Hobart, Darwin or Adelaide and don’t feel state loyalty tugging on the old heartstrings? Or are you just after a break from wall-to-wall coverage?

2019 has been a massive Origin period, blanketed by the most extensive media coverage in memory. But it’s worth remembering that there’s an actual professional league out there waiting to kick back into gear for the run to the NRL finals.

Concussion – They still don’t get it
In the same week of blanket coverage of how the NRL handles concussion, the same week where reports emerged of potential class-action concussion lawsuits by former players, the NRL proves yet again that its on-field treatment of head knocks leaves a lot to be desired.

In the 69th minute of the Warriors’ win at Newcastle on Saturday night, centre Peta Hiku got knocked back to the 1850s by his Knights opponent Jesse Ramien.

There was nothing dirty or malicious in it, Hiku was trying to make a tackle and understandably Ramien wasn’t overly receptive to it. It was one of those instances of ‘rugby league contact’ which happens hundreds of times in a game when large men try to knock each other over.

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But Hiku was clearly in trouble, staggering backwards before falling to the ground. He tried to stand up, wobbling round like a spaghetti-legged prizefighter using muscle memory to try to beat an eight count – and all with pocket referee Gavin Badger standing literally next to him.

Astoundingly, Badger and lead referee Adam Gee allowed play to continue and Newcastle scored and converted to take a 20-18 lead.

In the aftermath of the incident, Gee told Warriors skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck that play continued because the Warriors trainer had not told Badger about the head knock (that’s the rule), but it was obvious to all that Hiku was in distress. A tackle was even completed before the decisive scoring play.

There were any number of moments where the game could have been stopped, not that they should have waited for one.

The trainer couldn’t have made it to Hiku before the try because he was in traffic and Badger had run off to follow the play. If Badger or Gee had stopped the game on their own call, no one would have argued. They couldn’t have.

Gee and Badger have been punted for Round 17 and fair enough. In their defence, they followed the letter of the law… It’s just a dumb law.

NRL head of football Graham Annesley would want to be confirming pretty bloody quickly that a referee is entitled to stop a game in a similar situation. If it kills the ‘flow’ or turns out to be a false alarm, so be it. There’s too much on the line for the player.

Gold Coast Titans CEO Graham Annesley

Graham Annesley (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

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Origin scheduling is ludicrous
The Knights went on to lose Saturday night’s game against New Zealand 24-20. They were effectively playing with one hand behind their back, missing Origin players Mitchell Pearce, Tim Glasby, Daniel Saifiti and David Klemmer. That’s a whole front row and a halfback.

It’s all part of Origin, you say. It’s the spectacle that pays the bills and gets the ratings, so teams should suck it up and be honoured their players are selected.

All fine and well, but you can’t deny its massive impact on the NRL season, and not for the good.

Right now Newcastle sit in sixth spot, one game and 26 points behind the fourth-placed Canberra Raiders. After their much criticised 1-5 start to the year, the Knights have broken out to be 8-7 and should have been in control of their own destiny.

But thanks to Origin picking the eyes out of their line-up, they’ve dropped two points at home they likely would have won with a full squad. On top of this, their next game is on Friday night, barely 48 hours after tonight’s decider, against a Canterbury team that have shown they can take an opportunity when it presents itself.

If tonight’s Origin quartet can’t back up on Friday (or even if they can), the Novocastrians might well lose again. That’s four points missed at home that could cost them a double chance.

David Klemmer of the Newcastle Knights

David Klemmer of the Newcastle Knights . (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

Tell me again how Origin is a great competitive equaliser for the NRL. It’s a rubbish argument.

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Luckily there’s a simple fix – move the big three games to a three-week block. Shut the NRL down for that time. Play internationals. Not only do you keep the focus on the big ticket item, you shorten the season and cut out a heap of games that don’t mean anything.

I’m pretty sure Newcastle players and fans would prefer a fair crack at the top four over a financially successful Origin period.

An icon salutes
You don’t have to like Cameron Smith, and plenty don’t. But his achievements in rugby league are about to get a cherry on top when he runs out for his 400th game with the Melbourne Storm on Saturday night.

The milestone is a first for the NRL and it has to be said that 400 games for the one club has a good feel to it. There’s something to be said for one of the greats putting down roots as the club grows around him.

Smith’s legacy in the eyes of the punter is mixed, but it wouldn’t bother him at all. He’s been the best player in the best team for a long time and rightly deserves all the platitudes and congratulations this weekend.