It’s hard to believe the NRL match review committee could compound the issue regarding Sia Soliola’s hit on Billy Slater. But they’ve done exactly that by giving the Canberra second-rower just a five-match suspension as opposed to the six that certain parties were pushing for. If they were interested in taking a tough stance on careless tackles, be they intentional or not, Sia Soliola had to be given the maximum penalty available.
That means he shouldn’t be returning in round 26 against, you guessed it, the Melbourne Storm. He should’ve been banned for the rest of the season without pay and received a reprimand from the club and the NRL.
This was the NRL’s only option after the on-field referees, and those reviewing the decision from the bunker, decided to allow Sia Soliola to remain on the field despite clear-cut evidence he deserved to be sent off.
Many have argued that the referees are either scared to make this decision because they fear being dropped over poor decisions, or are totally lost as to what does and doesn’t constitute a send-off.
Either way, the NRL had the opportunity to put the argument to bed on Tuesday night but squandered the opportunity much like they did at Canberra stadium on Saturday.
The issue for me, as the match review panel currently stands, is that players are being given lighter sentences when they plead guilty. This simply doesn’t make sense.
‘Sia, because you’ve accepted that you are in fact guilty, we have decided to reduce your charge by one week.’
We are not dealing with convicted murderers here; we are dealing with footballers. As a result, charges should not be downgraded because they have accepted that their actions were not befitting of the NRL’s rules and regulations. What message does that send to the rest of the competition – you can hit a player late and high but still get away with a lighter sentence because you’ve acknowledged that your actions were wrong?
It’s no wonder the NRL has an image problem.
This isn’t the first time they’ve botched a sentence this year. When Tim Simona was found to be fixing matches and committing heinous crimes, Todd Greenberg didn’t mark him down on the no fly list, leaving the door ajar for corruption to creep back into the game at some point in the future.
And what about their soft approach to salary cap breaches in the past.
By not taking a hardball stance on blatant thuggery at the judiciary earlier this week, the NRL have effectively condoned violence.
Slipping or not, hits like Soliola’s give rugby league a bad name.
If the NRL were to make strides forward in preventing a repeat of the shocking events of Saturday night, Tony Archer, or another NRL representative, needed to make clear the rules around send-offs, sin-bins and general misconduct.
It’s no good leaving it to ‘instinct’ as some sources have suggested. We need black and white rulings.
This means contact to the head of an opposition player is made a send-off offence – whether it was intentional or not. Players must be protected.
If the NRL are truly committed to making the game cleaner than it currently is, then its high time they stopped operating their judiciary hearings like a court of law and removed those outdated and non-functional grading terms like ‘careless, late and reckless’.
The more criteria the NRL use for determining the extent of a penalty, the more decisions they are going to get horribly wrong. And for a game already losing its place amongst the younger population due to acts like Soliola’s, it cannot afford for the NRL to continue going soft on brutal hits.