Amid all the controversy surrounding the new fighting rule and certain incidents that have taken place over the past few weeks, the one thing people seem to be forgetting is the message that will eventually start to hit home – step over the line and you’re going to be punished.
I understand the arguments against the sin-binning of four players in State of Origin Two given that Brent Tate and Greg Bird shouldn’t have been sent off, and it is important that referees start to get these decisions right. But I have said before that we need to clean up our game and I stand by that opinion.
With each player who finds themselves back in the sheds for 10 minutes or suspended for fighting, the message will start to get through. Players will start to understand the consequences that come with stepping over the line. Not only will they be hurting themselves, they will be hurting their team as well. It is the same for all players. They know the rule is in place.
The same applies to Parramatta’s Mitchell Allgood, who was binned for punching Manly’s Steve Matai on Monday night and has been suspended for two weeks as a result. I’ve heard both sides of the argument and when Matai was approaching, Allgood probably thought he was coming there for confrontation. But was what he did necessary? I don’t think so. Call it a brain snap or whatever, he should have known there was the likelihood of spending some time in the bin and being put on report.
Nevertheless, we should also recognise the dangers of getting important decisions wrong on the field. I doubt it would ever have come to this – implementing a rushed rule change mid-season – if Paul Gallen had been sin-binned in the first place for punching Nate Myles in State of Origin I.
There is a line the NRL must be very wary of. We want to set a high standard with the policing of the rules in the game but there is the danger of going too far over the line once we become reactionary. The fight in Origin II is a prime example of an incident that could have been handled better and all came about because of an error made three weeks earlier. In a lot of cases it is simply a case of getting it right on the night to avoid the invention of new rules.
We saw a similar situation with Josh Dugan, who was suspended for a week for a shoulder charge despite most agreeing his tackle was borderline at worst. I certainly don’t think it was a shoulder charge.
But that’s not to say these new rules themselves are wrong. Just as players will learn that fighting is unacceptable, the abolition of the shoulder charge is a positive step for our game.
I love the tough collisions in rugby league – they are what bring fans to the game – but moving forward I think we have a duty of care to the players.
We play a very tough and physically demanding game in which big collisions are going to occur but I dread the day a player suffers a truly serious head injury because of a shoulder charge gone wrong. We have to be aware of the long-term impacts that can have. Now that I’ve stepped away from the game, I can see that’s a genuine concern and welfare issue for the NRL.
It’s great to see my old club Penrith proving the critics wrong by moving into the top eight over the weekend. Ivan Cleary and the playing group deserve enormous credit for what they’ve been able to do. The Panthers copped a lot of criticism at the start of the year when they lost Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon and Michael Jennings. There were doubts over how they would go this season and whether they had made a huge mistake. They were supposed to be wooden-spooners but the club has proved everyone wrong.
While others doubted the long-term plans of Ivan Cleary and Phil Gould, it is clear now that their basic aim is to successfully foster and grow the amazing talent that is in the Penrith region. It was a plan of refocussing the club’s goals. What was happening in the past just wasn’t working, so Ivan changed the goalposts.
Matty Moylan is a great example. He was a young player on the rise when I was at the club a few years back and I knew he was going to be someone to watch. The way he has attacked the season and cemented himself as a prospect for the Panthers has been fantastic. That’s the opportunity Ivan Cleary has provided. He has opened the door and now some of these young guys are starting to take it with both hands.
In fact, every player to a man is taking that opportunity with both hands and making the most of it. It is a great indication of a tight-knit group playing for each other.