OPINION: Rugby League is Getting Soft

The crowd roared in excitement six minutes into the game as Steve Roach laid a belter on Les Davidson starting a biff that had players from both sides running in to join the action and punches flying like it was the rumble in the jungle. As the commotion died down you could see men on the ground with nothing but a smile on their face and the crowd reciprocating the same body language.

This was the excitement that was a true blue, Australian Rugby League biff. The biff is dead now.

‘One Punch and You’re Off’; is the NRL taking it too far by enforcing zero tolerance on the biff in rugby league games? In June 2013 the NRL enforced a zero tolerance policy on punching in rugby league games, including State of Origin, following a similar crack down on shoulder charge rules earlier in the year. 2014 brought new concussion rules and harsher penalties for lifting tackles after Alex McKinnon’s neck injury.

Over the weekend former NRL player Brett White tweeted about his disappointment in the state of the game.

It was only last week that Jonathan Thurston got all up in Aaron Woods’ face in State of Origin 3. Of course nothing came of the challenge due to the consequences that would have been dished out but if the same situation had’ve arisen 30 years ago Jonathan Thurston may have been walking off the field with a bloodied nose depending on Woods’ temper.

The no punch rule has given a certain arrogance to smaller players because they are less cautious of making  the bigger guys angry. Michael Ennis is a prime example of a guy who has been made to look bigger from the no punching rules as he is now the first man to get into any sort of fight. These days it seems more and more that the little fellas are the ones who are causing the problems. It makes the bigger players look softer.

Society’s low tolerance for violence in the streets may be warranted but it is now affecting the sporting world where it is actually welcome. ‘The Biff’ has been an integral part of Australian Rugby League culture since the beginning of the game and fans are outraged that the game is becoming too soft and that the next generation might not even get to experience the excitement which once came from watching a Queenslander knock the arrogance out of a New South Wales scoundrel.

Concussion rules were instated in a thorough push to make the game ‘safer’. Ian Roberts, 48 years of age, is a former league great who has recently learned he has brain damage caused by several concussions when he was younger. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald he admitted his doubts about the future of the game he loves. “It’s quite possibly the beginning of the end of contact sport, like hard contact sport,” he said.

Neurologist, Professor Chris Levi, debunked claims that there is a correlation between long term brain damage and concussion in Rugby League. “Claiming a ‘cause and effect’ relationship between concussion and neurological illness in rugby league players is not justified,” he said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

Rugby League is more than just a sport for the people who love the game. Rules and regulations that are coming into place in the NRL are destroying the culture of the sport and could eventually transform it into a shell of its former glory. Has the NRL taken it too far by changing so many rules regarding contact in a ‘contact’ sport?

One thing is certain. Rugby League isn’t the same game it once was.

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