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In Touch: Fight brings mixed reactions

Leila McKinnon NRL.com Tue, Aug 30, 2011 - 2:30 PM

Adam Blair is sent-off for his involvement in the brawl. Copyright: NRL Photos

There you were, kicking back on the sofa, a piece of pizza in your hand, all settled in for a top game of footy on Friday night when BAM, you gripped the edge of your seat, your heart started to race and you yelled to everyone in the house FIIIIIIIIIIGHT!

Don’t even try to pretend you shook your head in disappointment. You didn’t feel disgusted by the behaviour of the players, you didn’t hope and pray that maybe one day we can all get along.

The massive majority of football fans love a fight, even if in our more enlightened age it’s usually just a few guys grabbing each other’s jerseys and trying to convey with their eyes what they’d be doing if permitted.

These are a few of the tweets that made the game trend around Australia on twitter:

@dubs741 Thanks Manly Storm for bringing back the biff maybe AFL should do the same thing as NRL then people might actually watch it.

@Raychi85 Watching YouTube footage of last night’s brawls, Blair v Stewart and then BAM Manly v Storm! I love my league!

@aliciagorey what about the biff in seaeaglesstorm! AFL hasn’t seen sideline action like it since the 80s #nrl #converted

I know that the NRL’s future depends on being a family-friendly game, a sport we want our children to enjoy and maybe even play, and I understand why we can never bring back the biff. We’re all supposed to be a little more sophisticated these days than we were back when the fists were flying, and the beers cans were raining down on the field.

And a very few of us are:

@tylerockit Are football players ever going to learn? Little kids are watching you fight each other like animals, grow up.

@simongreen_net we can’t condone what happened last night even though it was great entertainment

NRL CEO David Gallop doesn’t decide the punishment players receive but he certainly makes his feelings felt.

“I can understand that everybody is concerned with what occurred last night and is important that it will be looked at in an appropriate manner. Clearly this is serious and unacceptable. No one wants to see protracted fighting and the NRL has processes in place to deal with the issues,” he said.

Fair enough, actions must have consequences. The biff is history, but I just don’t want things to swing too far the other way.

When we put together a team of young men, and train them to play physically, aggressively and with passion, and to ram into each other dozens of times a game, we have to expect there will be occasions when it boils over into violence. There have actually been commendably few fights this season. But now, as we head into finals time the pressure is on, and tempers will flare.

Players are treated more harshly if they join a fight that’s already underway. But we’re not taught to leave a mate to look after himself should he be threatened, we’re expected to help him, even more so if he’s a family member.

In this case, there is a need for a deterrent, but also some understanding. That’s why I’m arguing that Friday’s fight should not mean the end of anyone’s season.

Back in 1985 when Greg Dowling traded blows with New Zealand prop Kevin Tamati as they made their way through the Lang Park tunnel, Dowling was suspended for one game.

He told AAP the Manly-Melbourne stoush brought back memories.

“It took me back, it certainly did.”

“I had a bit of a laugh at first but, when they went on and on, it was a bit of a shock.

“We’re talking 26 years since my incident and, back then, it was common for blokes to go toe to toe.

“(Brett) Stewart flying in over the top like he did, it wasn’t a good look.”

Of course, these days a one game suspension would probably be too light, but I wouldn’t call for any more than a two game ban. Punishing the players means punishing the fans too, and neither Melbourne nor Manly or their supporters deserve to have their season put on the line by the madness of a moment.

  • The views in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the clubs or the NRL.