Friend sees hypocrisy from Napa's critics
Roosters captain Jake Friend fears rugby league is trying to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to calls for Dylan Napa to change the tackling style that has dominated highlights reels of big hits.
Napa will watch the Tricolours' finals run from the sidelines after copping a three-week ban for the mistimed shot that knocked Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough out cold and led to him being stretchered from the Allianz Stadium turf last Saturday.
McCullough has since been ruled out of Brisbane's clash with Manly this weekend to manage concussion symptoms, while Napa will be available for a preliminary or grand final return should the Roosters progress that far.
With Napa's tackling style under the microscope, Friend conceded Napa had to address the specific lapses that floored McCullough and teammate Korbin Sims earlier in the year, leaving the Broncos prop with a broken jaw.
But in the same breath Friend does not want Napa to abandon the aggressive approach that has made him one of the Telstra Premiership's most renowned enforcers since his debut in 2013.
"Dylan's a gentleman and he plays the game hard," Friend told NRL.com.
"I think as a footy fan I watch Dylan's tackles and he's in all the highlights reels and we love the way he plays the game, it's why you turn on.
"People are saying that he needs to change his style, but they laud his style as well when it goes right. He's in every highlights reel for those big brutal hits that everyone loves in footy.
"It's a hard thing, you can say 'change your style' because he's got it wrong and it's on him to do so. But also, the flip side is everyone loves it when he gets it right."
When the match review committee did not charge Napa for his previous hit on Sims, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg went public with his view that "player safety always comes first, and if you're going to err on the side of caution, I thought it warranted a charge."
While this latest charge against Napa reinforces the defender's responsibility of a ball-carrier's safety, even in the event of a head clash, the NRL's newly appointed head of football Graham Annesley has been urged to address instances of players leading into contact with their head.
Former coach and respected analyst Roy Masters likened the practice to the "weapon-head" tackle outlawed earlier this year in the NFL in a Fairfax Media column on Tuesday, with any potential rule addressing the practice falling under Annesley's remit.
Napa has apologised to McCullough "numerous times" according to his Queensland Origin teammate, and Friend dismissed any suggestion the 25-year-old ever intentionally leads into a tackle with his head.
The Maroons front-rower was visibly distressed as McCullough was taken from the field, and appeared to be holding back when he returned from the sin bin.
Friend declined to comment on whether Napa's latest mistimed tackle had dulled his physicality on the field or in future.
"I thought he was playing really well before that, and it is really hard to get back into the game after being sin-binned," Friend said.
"The game's flowing and you've got 10 minutes where you're just sitting around and you've got to catch up with the pace again, it's not easy."