Top coaches back heavy-handed kick protection

LEADING NRL coaches Tim Sheens and Jason Taylor have leapt to the defence of new rules protecting kickers, claiming it is vital the game’s top players are protected from the ‘cheap shots’ that have claimed so many casualties in the past.<br><br>But they have warned that referees are also in danger of over-stepping the mark following criticism from Warriors coach Ivan Cleary at the weekend, who labelled the new rule ‘a farce’.<br><br>Under the new laws, players are only allowed to make contact with a kicker if they are attempting a legitimate tackle and will be penalised otherwise – even if contact is simultaneous with the ball leaving the boot.<br><br>“I agree that we should be protecting kickers,” Taylor told NRL.com today.<br><br>“I agree with the philosophy that blokes kicking the ball are the best players in our game – they’re our marquee players – and they shouldn’t be able to be targeted and smashed out of the game.<br><br>“Having said that, there is a fine line.<br><br>“You certainly don’t just want to be giving them room to do whatever they want.<br><br>“You’ve got to be able to apply some pressure and not give them free rein.”<br><br>Asked if the problem at present was more to do with a lack of education among players of what they can and can’t do, Taylor replied: “Yeah, that’s probably right.<br><br>“You can tackle them when they’re going to kick but you can’t shoulder charge them when they’re in mid-air and really smash them to the ground.<br><br>“Again, it’s a fine line but referees are probably leaning towards the harsher side of the ledger at the moment.<br><br>“At least it’s sending a message, isn’t it?”<br><br>Sheens – the NRL’s longest-serving coach – agreed, saying players were still confused as to what was acceptable.<br><br>“The principle of [the rule] is correct but the interpretation is another issue,” the Wests Tigers mentor said.<br><br>“There is no doubt it could do with a little bit of clarification about what point can you make contact and what point can you not.”<br><br>However, he was quick to dismiss Cleary’s suggestion that kickers were now receiving far greater protection than a fullback defusing a bomb.<br><br>The Warriors’ coach was furious at a penalty awarded against his side for a simultaneous hit on Brisbane’s Darren Lockyer that led to a try, saying: “If it’s about safety, that’s hypocrisy in my opinion.”<br><br>Sheens disagreed when contacted today.<br><br>“Kickers should be protected because they’re on one leg – that’s a little bit different from catching a ball,” he said. <br><br>“We’ve already had that incident with Brett Kimmorley (who injured his knee when hit by Queensland prop Steve Price in the 2007 Origin series). <br><br>“It’s just common sense but it’s very difficult when his toe is just on the ground and he gets contacted – he is still very vulnerable.”<br><br>But Price remains a vocal opponent of the new rule, insisting that kickers can’t have it both ways if they continue trying to gain an extra advantage by kicking in the line.<br><br>“The irony is that there have only been two injuries to kickers in the past few years and both of them have been from me,” he said.<br><br>“One (Tony Caine) was a guy kicking from dummy-half and the other (Kimmorley) was kicking in the line.<br><br>“In the old days kickers used to stand way back but now players are trying to kick it in the line because it gives them so much more yardage.<br><br>“Well, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.<br><br>“The advantage is now going to swing hugely in favour of the kicker when all they have to do is stand deeper if they don’t want to come into contact with anyone.<br><br>“We’re going to see it this season, where the defender has to pull out of the tackle because he’s not allowed to touch him and the kicker will dummy and run straight through.”<br><br>Price said kickers had already learnt to milk a penalty even with minimal contact.<br><br>“A few years ago we were worried about blokes lying on the ground looking for a penalty after a tiny tap on the head, now it has come to this,” he said.<br><br>“Blokes are starting to throw their hands up and hit the deck and the referees are blowing a penalty straight away.”