NRL news | High tackle crackdown necessary to protect players

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Mark Levy is the host of 2GB’s Wide World of Sports radio show. Tune in from 6pm-7pm, Monday to Thursday!

The National Rugby League is NOT going soft, it is NOT becoming rugby union or touch football and it is NOT overreacting to acts of foul-play.

The greatest game of all is instead protecting itself from concussion and expensive litigation.

I’ve heard plenty of people suggest the ARL Commission is ruining the fabric of the game by introducing these “new rules” but there’s nothing new about punishing players for making contact with the head and neck of an opponent; it’s been in the rule book since 1908.

I agree, the game has never been safer when you compare today’s product to some of the infamous blood baths from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and that’s because we stamped out the violence. The same should apply for contact with the head and neck.

ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys insists the “future of the game rests on it being free of head injuries” and when you mention the names who have been forced into a premature retirement or those who suffer from dementia later in life, it’s a critical issue.

I think we all understand what the rugby league bosses are trying to achieve and we should be applauding it, but the anger and frustration over the weekend stems from the way in which the crackdown was enforced by the match officials. We’ve gone from one-extreme to another when the NRL needs to, and will this week, find the middle ground.

V’landys conceded the crackdown went too far over the weekend because the referees were “over-conscientious” in enforcing the tougher penalties.

“There has to be some balance to it. Over time we’ll get it right.  In three or four months, we’ll look back [at this] as a landmark situation where we stopped knocks to the head and neck,” V’landys told 2GB’s Continuous Call Team.

Don’t attack the referees, though. They are simply following instructions.  

Former NRL referee Steve Clark knows a thing or two about a crackdown.  The whistleblower was tasked with enforcing a play-the-ball edict from headquarters back in 2000 and blew 31 penalties on the following Friday night at Panthers Stadium.

“There’s no doubt in my mind having been instructed to enforce this sort of thing before, the referees are doing exactly what they’ve been told to do.  If anyone thinks the referees are like, for want of a better term, suicide bombers who want to bring extra attention to themselves, they are crazy,” Clark told 2GB’s Continuous Call Team.

It’s easy to point the finger at the match officials, but like everyone else they’ll get it right.

“They’ll back off a bit and that’ll be telling them (referees) to be a little bit more circumspect about it, if someone needs to be sent off, send them off,” Clark said.

Fourteen players were given 10 minutes in the bin and three were sent from the field in Magic Round. Josh Papalii, Herman Ese’ese and Tyrell Fuimaono all deserved to be given their marching orders and it’s up to the match review committee to impose the necessary suspension which acts as a deterrent.

Ray Hadley has made lifelong friends in rugby league and the Nine Radio broadcaster spoke emotionally on Monday morning about the need for tougher penalties and deterrents.

“There are many of the greatest players the game has ever seen currently in a position where they don’t know their own name, let alone the name of their wives and children and it’s all traced back to head knocks,” Hadley said on his syndicated 2GB Morning Show.

Rugby league has moved with the times and concussion is the “most crucial issue facing the game in its history”, according to V’landys.

“You’ve got a finite period as a player and you’ve got a lifetime in retirement.  We want to give you a quality in your retirement, we don’t want you to have the after-effects of head knocks,” V’landys told the Ray Hadley Morning Show.

“We all love the game, it’s an escapism, but we don’t want our players at the end of their careers not to recognise their own families.  I’m doing this for the players themselves because they’ve got a long time in retirement.

“What made me really motivated is when I ran into a high profile player and he said, ‘Peter, you’ve got to protect the players from themselves’.”

V’landys doesn’t make these decisions lightly and this is someone who stared down the threat of a global health crisis and put the necessary biosecurity measures in place to protect the livelihoods of everyone involved. The ARL Commission chairman is doing exactly the same when it comes to concussion.

I often refer to the “dinosaurs” in rugby league who can’t shake the old-school mentality of “bring back the biff”, “bring back the shoulder charge” and they’re now accusing the game of “going soft” because of this latest crackdown.

We’ve still got the best and most brutal footy code anywhere in the world; we just need to move with the times like every other contact sport and protect the players from dementia and the code from litigation.

The tougher penalties will ensure the message sinks in with the clubs and the sooner the players realise the seriousness of concussion and concussion related issues, the better.

Instead of attacking the league for acting on its duty of care, let’s support them in making sure our heroes are in the best of health once they enter retirement from rugby league.

Sometimes there’s more to life than just football.

**It’s a hot topic at the moment and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the crackdown.  You can email me me via the Wide World of Sports radio show feedback page here

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