Chad Townsend was the third player to be sent off this season and the first to be sent off for a genuine old-school act of violent play.
He launched a jumping shoulder charge into the head of Kalyn Ponga. I’ll say it again. He launched a jumping shoulder charge aimed at the head of Kalyn Ponga.
For this, he was given five weeks, and an early guilty plea will reduce his time on the sidelines to three weeks. Cronulla are a good shout to make the finals, so he’ll be back in time for them.
Five weeks. Just five weeks for possibly the most dangerous and malicious act to take place on the field since Greg Inglis shoulder-rammed Dean Young, and even then Greg Inglis had one leg on the ground.
How can five weeks possibly be a fair punishment? How was this action even able to be graded?
I supported the call for Kevin Proctor to be suspended. I have no doubt he was biting his opponent, although I concede he probably didn’t really mean to. He was panicking, he wanted to play the ball quickly and he had a bit of a brain fade. It wasn’t premeditated. Thuggish play, but at the low end of thuggish play.
He was given six weeks, reduced to four for good behaviour – further proof Proctor’s actions were a weird one-off. He will spend more time on the sidelines than Townsend. I’m not entirely comfortable with this.
It’s complicated because I don’t want to be seen as someone who thinks people who bite should receive smaller punishments than other actions, but it is clear that it is horrendously unfair that someone like Proctor will spend more time on the sidelines than Townsend, who – in my view – actively set out to do one thing and one thing only: hurt his opponent.
Make no mistake; Townsend’s action was beyond reckless or careless. It wasn’t a snap decision either. He lined him up, ran ten metres and then jumped. He had plenty of time to change his mind, plenty of time to consider his actions.
At first, I thought it was made to look worse because the referee had already blown his whistle and Ponga had stopped. Indeed Paul Gallen suggested as much and that Townsend was unable to arrest his momentum.
But that is wrong. Townsend had clearly started his charge and jump when the referee blew the whistle, so in an alternative world, if it was play on, Ponga would have been collected late. It would’ve been the same outcome.
The simple fact is that Townsend had no other intention but to collect Ponga high, otherwise he simply wouldn’t jump. Why would you jump at a player who is the same height as you if not to be going for the head?
So rare is it to see someone charge up and jump into a player that I really can only recall two other instances: the Inglis incident I mentioned earlier, which was at least a half-jump, and John Hopoate’s career-ending jumping, charging elbow. Players simply do not jump into others, because of how incredibly dangerous and stupid it is. Players just do not do it.
No-one jumps at other players. It just doesn’t happen.
The only thing Townsend can count himself lucky for – or likely unlucky depending on his point of view – was that Ponga got straight back up. It’s just as likely he could have spent the next ten minutes on the grass needing to be stretchered off. Townsend missed his head. Luck and poor execution is the only reason Ponga doesn’t have a broken jaw or worse.
Rugby league is a tough game and, by virtue of it being a full-contact sport, it can also be a violent game. Rightly, not wrongly. Accidents on the field are an acceptable level of violence – that is, the accidental head knock or knee to the head in the scramble for the ball et cetera. Careless acts on the field are an acceptable level of violence – accidental high shots and so on – but intentional acts of violence are just plain wrong and need to be stamped out of the game with a huge suspension.
This was one of the most thuggish acts of play I’ve seen on the rugby league field since, well, since Hopoate.
Of course, I’m likely to be in the minority. Most of the media have already lined up behind Townsend and aimed the proverbial weaponry at Ben Cummins. Gallen, Steve Roach, Peter Sterling, Phil Gould, Greg Alexander have all come out and said that the referee overreacted. With the exception of Gallen, those other gents all played in an era during which that act was unquestionably a send-off. It always has been.
Of course, none of them would be in a position to answer why Townsend jumped into a player with his shoulder.
The NRL was doing everything right until the charge was laid. It needed to go straight to the tribunal. We needed to see Townsend hauled in front of them explaining what he was thinking and then given ten to 12 weeks as a deterrent. We must never see that again on the football field.
Both Townsend and Ponga got lucky. The next players involved may not be so lucky.