The send-off finally made its long-awaited reappearance on Sunday night.
But the big question is whether it is the start of an actual policy change on behalf of NRL HQ to stamp out foul and dangerous play? Or will it just be a token effort to quell current fan outrage?
I hope it’s the former.
History warns us that it may well be the latter.
Recent experience shows us that Todd Greenberg and his minions have little stomach for maintaining such crackdowns, if you can call a solitary dismissal a crackdown…
The failure of the great penalty and sin bin crackdown of 2018 – and the resultant drying up of sin bins and reduced penalty counts this year – show us that even when Todd genuinely wanted to get tough and he had the support of masses of fans to do so, there are bigger forces at work in the game that seemingly prioritise 13 vs 13 over the in-game enforcement of the rules of the game.
When Ashley Klein pointed Raider Nick Cotric to the stands in the 59th minute of their match against the Dragons, it was the first time a player was sent off since Curtis Scott in Round 11 of 2018 for repeatedly punching Manly’s Dylan Walker.
While I’m no great fan of violence, my politically incorrect view of that incident was that Dylan Walker got what he had picked. Walker said as much on an Instagram story showing off his swollen face.
"Talk shit, get hit."
Dylan Walker knows how it goes. pic.twitter.com/59s0uKHsPI
— Jason Oliver (@JasonNRL) May 20, 2018
Having niggled the fiery Scott all evening to that point, he had provoked quite the coming-together of the two teams. Walker got what he wanted. Scott got angrier than Craig Bellamy when his side departs from the script and only has four men holding down the tackled player.
Scott was pulled away by his team-mates as the initial fracas died down. However, Walker wasn’t finished. He darted around the half-hearted attempts of the various peace-makers to get right in Scott’s face again.
Scott then completely misplaced his excrement. He simply could not find it anywhere.
What he could find was Dylan Walker’s face repeatedly with his closed fist.
When the dust finally settled, Scott was sent off. Walker – who suffered facial fractures as a result – was sin binned. As was team-mate Api Koroisau.
For the send-off previous to that you have to go back to David Shillington head-butting Aaron Woods in 2015. Before that, Knight Kade Snowden was sent off for a shoulder charge on Ray Thompson’s jaw in 2013.
In 2012, Dragon Matt Prior did a late high hit on Johnathan Thurston to get his marching orders. In 2011 at the infamous Battle of Brookvale, both Glenn Stewart and Adam Blair had their sin-binnings turned into send-offs after engaging in some vigorous fisticuffs while en route to the pine.
So by my count, up until last Sunday night, we’d had six send-offs in a decade. Including Cotric, we’ve now had seven over roughly 1900 games of NRL.
That’s one send-off for roughly every 270 games. Far less than one a season.
Notably, there have been plenty of long suspensions for foul and dangerous play over that period. However, they were almost all put on report. Only three of the seven send-offs were for foul or dangerous play. The rest were for head-butting or fighting.
This season alone we’ve seen Josh McGuire stay on the field not once but twice after putting his hands all over the faces of his opponents, with Hudson Young and George Burgess also not even getting ten in the bin for similar actions.
We’ve seen Peni Terepo get four weeks for a reckless high tackle that broke a player’s nose and forced a defensive reshuffle of the opposition side. That reshuffle in turn caused a defensive frailty that Terepo’s team then exploited to the maximum. Terepo didn’t even leave the field for ten, but his side took the two competition points and had 13 on the field the next game.
The question was asked by many after these incidents what a player actually had to do to get sent off in the NRL?
What actually is the consequence for a team if their player does perpetrate a foul or dangerous act?
Can it actually advantage a side to carry out such acts if there is no negative in-game consequence?
The answer came on Sunday night when Cotric was sent off.
The next question is whether a dangerous throw is actually regarded as worse than an eye gouge or vicious swinging arm to an opponent’s head, or whether this is just the latest short-lived knee jerk to a public outcry by the NRL over their ongoing sloppy and inconsistent management of the competition.
After all of the bad incidents that have occurred this season that resulted in bugger all on-field action by the match day officials – now including Liam Knight’s very late hit on Daly Cherry-Evans, arguably worse than the effort that saw Tariq Sims miss two games – it’s hard to swallow that a person of Nick Cotric’s calibre was the one who finally got sent off.
There is no question that Cotric’s tackle on Tim Lafai wasn’t good at all.
Lafai came down very awkwardly. Fortunately he was not hurt at all. But he could have been.
To ensure lifting tackles that result in players landing on their heads aren’t part of our game, there must be disincentives to ensure that players modify their styles accordingly. In a competition that was consistently and effectively run, the Cotric tackle should always be a send-off.
But so should the Burgess eye gouge and the Terepo swinging arm. But the NRL is not a competition that is consistently and effectively run, and Terepo and Burgess were not sent off.
There is also no question that the Cotric tackle was an accident. While Cotric is a strong defender, he is also a player without a blemish on his record at any level or age group. He plays hard but he plays clean.
There isn’t any grub or malice in the kid. It’s not his go.
In the same age group coming through school as my daughter, she told me about him long before I’d heard about his prodigious talent. Whereas lots of the good footy players she knew were violent and/or nasty pieces of work on and off the field, she told me this Cotric kid wasn’t just the best footballer of all of them, he was also nice, polite and respectful.
And that’s what those of us around the Raiders club have subsequently found too. He is a lovely and well-mannered young man who has been raised right. Even when he was touted and subsequently picked for the NSW Origin side, he never got a big head. He doesn’t act better than anyone. He doesn’t put others down.
Sure, I am biased. There is no question at all about that. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
Nick Cotric doesn’t smash car windows with street signs or send naked selfies. He doesn’t refuse blood tests after car crashes or abuse cabin crew when drunk on planes. He doesn’t consistently interfere with the faces of opponents in the tackle or engage in the vile abuse of opposition players that require intervention. So far this season those type of players have gone on report and stayed on the field when they badly infringed.
In the sheds post game Cotric was a shattered young man.
The question now is whether this send-off is the beginning of the NRL drawing a line in the sand on foul and dangerous play? Are they actually intending to bring the send-off back in order to belatedly start demonstrating some actual duty of care to the players?
If they are, they have no stauncher supporter than me. I am totally in support of the NRL and their officials having the courage to take control of the games to stamp out foul and dangerous play.
However, if the sending off of Cotric turns out just to be yet another short-lived PR knee jerk to counter the public outcries they received because Burgess and Terepo stayed on the park, with Cotric just a token sacrificial lamb, I’ll be totally disgusted.
And you should be too.
That type of opportunistic expediency should have no place in our game, let alone from those who are charged with running it.
We fans are now mostly so jaded that we no longer expect fairness. But we dream of competence, consistency and integrity somehow getting a toe hold at NRL HQ.
So please Mr Greenberg – please – don’t let this be yet another time that you and your organisation let the players and the fans down.
Please take a stand to make the sending off of Nick Cotric actually the start of a great era in the game of rugby league.