“The most important thing is the players have adjusted and the thuggery to the head is gone.”
That was ARLC chair Peter V’landys on Thursday after the first State of Origin game which, to anyone who’s watched any of season 2021 would know, was refereed quite differently to a club game.
I’m not saying that’s bad, it’s just the way it happened.
Queensland winger Kyle Feldt should have been given ten minutes for a shot on Cam Murray. He wasn’t. Apparently that’s because the bunker had more angles than the host TV broadcast and they ruled the first contact wasn’t to Murray’s head.
So it was an accident and play on, yes? Well, kinda. Feldt played on but was placed on report and got a desultory $1600 fine for Grade 1 dangerous contact.
Which brings us to the case of the unfortunate Kobe Hetherington, the Brisbane rookie sent off for hitting Canberra backrower Corey Harawira-Naera high. Which he certainly did do.
The only problem was that Harawira-Naerea literally flew through the air into the Bronco after being ankle tapped trying to hurdle a diving Tyson Gamble.
It was a bang-bang, split-second thing. But Hetherington was sent off. Harawira-Naerea was off the field for 15 minutes for a head injury assessment but then returned and played the game out.
Referee Chris Sutton said on the field the contact from Hetherington’s shoulder was direct to Harawira-Naera’s head, and “that’s direct, and that’s the way we rule on that”.
If that’s the case, why hasn’t that been shouted from the rooftops and broadcast all over the place? The only instruction or guidance we’ve seen about this ‘crackdown’ was in the infamous Magic Round email or in interviews with V’landys.
Last week it was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that V’landys had “been privately calling for common sense to be applied” and he “wanted accidental or incidental contact with the head to be placed on report, with only reckless, direct and forceful contact to see players sent from the field”.
In other words, he’s already squibbed the crackdown, but that’s another column for another time.
Leaks from head office to favourable reporters, subterfuge, misleading statistics and bullshit from Graham Annesley at his increasingly pointless weekly Monday briefings “privately calling for common sense” – it’s a mess. But we all know that.
The most important thing missing from this ‘crackdown’ is a systematic, unemotional and easy-to-follow guide for what type of contact gets what level of penalty. It would remove all doubt.
Rugby union has one. After each questionable hit, referees and the bunker step through what happened to make sure it meets certain thresholds for harsher or lighter on-field penalties before making a decision.
You can still get angry at the punishment, but at least there is no argument about why it was given.
If such a thing exists in rugby league outside of the email sent to clubs 12 hours before Magic Round started, nobody’s seen it.
Despite the send-off, Hetherington was handed a Grade 1 charge, a $1500 fine and will miss no games. That’s a lesser fine than what Feldt got.
It’s a fair outcome considering the send-off, but I tend to agree with comments made on Sunday by New South Wales coach Brad Fittler: “Let’s not go and make it a total uproar of the NRL because two blokes got it blatantly wrong”.
The real problem from the weekend was Gold Coast backrower Kevin Proctor, who is set for a fortnight’s holiday for a Grade 2 dangerous high tackle after coathangering his Kiwi teammate and Roosters centre Joey Manu.
Yet again a tackle deemed bad enough to be worth a two-week suspension was only punished with a penalty at the time.
The fact Manu jumped to his feet to play the ball probably saved Protcor’s bacon. If Manu stayed face down like a few other players we’ve seen do lately, Proctor would have at least got ten in the bin, maybe worse. That’s also another column for another time.
The true act of ‘thuggery to the head’ was allowed to remain on the field.
There’s still work to do to get this into a space where we all know what’s going on.
I think NRL CEO Andrew Abdo will be in the decision room at some point. He doesn’t seem to be allowed to speak unless it’s something V’landys doesn’t want to talk about.
So fans will rage, fume and stay stuck in a constant love-hate flux with rugby league because head office is a shambles.
And just recently, we got two powerful reminders of why it’s so important to get this right.
Roosters triple premiership player and premiership captain, Origin-winning New South Wales captain and Australian captain Boyd Cordner announced his retirement yesterday.
He’s pulling the pin at just 29 because of his concerns about the long-term effects of repeated concussions.
Cordner is one of the game’s good guys, a respected and fearless competitor, and you can guarantee other players will look at him and think how if it happened to Cordner, it could easily be them too.
Amid the reports about Cordner’s retirement, Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy shed light on how his fullback tyro Ryan Papenhuyzen was faring.
Papenhuyzen was concussed by a high shot in Magic Round a month ago and has barely trained since.
“He was down and obviously it was affecting him. He’d do a bit of training and get a headache,” Bellamy told the press on Sunday.
“Some players find it harder to recover from it when they know the situation of it. Concussion gets obviously a lot of publicity and has done for a lot of years now, and some guys worry about it more than other guys.”
Papenhuyzen is one of my favourite players. Fast, unbelievably skilled and absent of fear. But you can guarantee parents will look at him and think how if it happened to their kid’s favourite player, it could easily be their kid.
I’m repeating myself, but this should have been done so simply. Managing the safety of the players is too important to be turned into a dick-swinging show of power from someone who thinks they’re too untouchable to have to consult.
Giving clubs the offseason to adjust and train up and maybe even telling the referees would have made things much clearer.
But jamming a major change into a season in a completely half-arsed way, then sending contradictory messages when it gets poor publicity, is completely on-brand for V’landys and, through him, the NRL.