High Shot Happy Medium a Must Before Fans Walk Away

Matt Attard has written a guest Editorial analysing the NRL’s crackdown on head-high contact over the weekend, whether it worked, and what they should do going forward.

Magic Round was supposed to be the showpiece of the regular season; instead, it wad marred with controversy and debate.

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I want to start off my applauding the hard stance on high shots. I don’t think there would be a genuine supporter who doesn’t want to see a big decrease in concussions. But, what fans don’t want to see is overreaction and sin bins for farcical incidents, like the sin binning of Lachlan Burr for example.

An argument I’ve seen all round is: players need to stop hitting blokes in the head. Newsflash: they seldom do it on purpose. I won’t cop that as an excuse, because some of the time high contact is completely unavoidable. Most of the time first contact is around the chest and ball, which propels the defender’s arms up in the collision and minimal contact to the head is made – the type of contact that wouldn’t knock the skin off custard. I fear ball carriers will begin to deliberately duck into tackles to milk a sin bin. Unless the referees use common sense, it could become a big issue in the game tactically.

An introduction of five-minute sin bins is a must if players are going to be marched for such paltry shots, like Tyson Gamble was on the weekend, or Josh McGuire for that matter. No doubt players need to go back to the drawing board and perfect the low tackle. But that in itself creates issues. Smaller men must tackle higher on big players and that creates a risk of coming up off the ball and making contact with the neck or head, very mildly mind you. It happens 100 times a game. Do they get sin binned? What if they have to tackle low or risk being binned or giving away a penalty? That creates a massive risk of a head knock for our game’s smaller players. There is such a grey area surrounding high tackles now that there will be a big adjustment period. Rather than report and bin everything, the officials must find a happy medium that uses common sense.

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Take the aforementioned Lachlan Burr sin binning as an example. James Tedesco was so low at the point of contact that he could have been tying his shoes. Burr stands his ground and Tedesco runs into his armpit and chest, with Burr’s arms barely lifted from his sides. He copped 10 in the bin. It was farcical. We shouldn’t be penalising defenders who simply can’t disappear in a split second when an attacker steps and lowers his centre of gravity by two feet. Was Burr supposed to stop and let Tedesco run through him?

Tedesco is as stomach height when hit and the contact is with Burr’s armpit and chest; completely innocuous and unavoidable.

An incident like this is a prime example of why there can’t be a blanket rule for head contact. Common sense must prevail. If we’re going to outlaw all contact to the head, no matter how minimal or accidental, then more onus must also be on the attacker. They can no longer nose dive into the defensive line, try and duck their head low through a gap, nor can they spin and drop (which often results in a crusher through no fault of the defender). That in itself creates another major issue.

As players begin to fear risking a sin bin, they’ll also begin to doubt themselves. Rather than go a little higher around the ball to wrap up the attacker, they’ll focus on going lower. This allows more leeway for an attacker to break free, or pop an offload and keep the play alive. A whole can of worms is opened up the deeper you dig into the what-ifs. Coaches will be livid if a player fails to make the effort to wrap up the ball or shut down a try-scoring play out of fear of slipping up off the ball and making high contact.

I also feel Gamble’s sin bin was harsh, but I can understand it based on the fact it was his second offence in a short amount of time. However, watching it back you can see that the shot starts low, Reuben Garrick steps in and contact is made only after first contact with the ball. What if it was a few weeks down the track and Gamble, fearful of being sin binned, goes low? Garrick offloads to a team mate and instead of saving a try, Gamble has just given away one on a silver platter.

Gamble’s shot on Garrick has fans split on whether it was a sin bin or not.

I want to address the talk of parents being turned away from the sport. The fact is, it’s a contact game with big collisions. No, that doesn’t mean supporting high tackles or dangerous play, but what it does mean is that there’s a risk that simply can’t be eradicated when you play contact sports. If you aren’t ok with that, don’t play the game. You accept that risk when you sign your registration papers. Otherwise, there’s always variants of the game that eliminate those risks, such as OzTag and touch football. I fear that all of these rule changes, from the “Six Again’s” to high tackle crackdowns, are creating massive blow out scores and severely crippling teams.

I understand the short term pain for long term gain concept. But I’m not sure the fans will be so forthcoming in the weeks ahead.

Do you agree with the foul play crackdown? Comment below.


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