Parramatta Eels great Brett Kenny has appealed to the NRL to relax its stance on punching, suggesting the sanitising of the sport is “ruining the game”.
Speaking recently on The Voluntary Tackle podcast, Kenny argued that by outlawing the punch in rugby league, it has given rise to smaller players baiting the bigger men with microaggressions to earn penalties.
“We’re seeing players who are thinking to themselves, ‘if I give this guy a bit of a slap on the cheek he might react so that and we might get a penalty,’” Kenny said.
“The little guys are now picking on the big guys, I look at someone like Michael Ennis, when he was playing and the things that he used to do and get away with, if he played in the eighties he’d probably only do it for two weeks because he’d be sick and tired of looking at his face being black and blue every weekend,” he added.
Responding to concerns that players punching on during matches may discourage kids from taking up rugby league, Kenny remained philosophical about the issue.
“If you’re concerned about your son playing rugby league then don’t let him play, it is a good game, it’s a great game, you’d like to have more kids playing it but if they don’t want to play it then so be it,” Kenny said.
“Unfortunately, these days they (the NRL) are trying please everybody and it’s ruining the game”.
“It was known as a gladiatorial sport, you’d talk to people who had been at the games and they would tell you they were lucky enough to sit on the fence and you could hear the bodies hitting each other and they thought it was great and it was part of the game and they enjoyed the body contact,” Kenny added.
The former Eels five-eighth also lamented the effect the rule change has had on State of Origin.
“I have people say to me around Origin time, it’s just not the same, we need to have fights in the first five minutes,” he said.
“People used to talk about never wanting to miss the first five minutes of the game because there was always a fight in the scrum…that was the reality and what it used to be like, I would stand out there at five-eight, I’d look across to Wally (Lewis) and he’d look at me and he’d give me a nod…the fight was on, people would go over and sort it all out.”
“The crowd loved it and it only happened in that scrum, very rarely did you see any more fights after that and the people enjoyed it.”
However, it appears Kenny’s pleas will likely fall on deaf ears, with the NRL making its stance clear repeatedly in recent seasons that it will not be “opening the door” to the punch being allowed back in the game anytime soon.
Brett Kenny was inducted into the NRL Hall of Fame in 2008 and played 265 first grade games for the Parramatta Eels.