Adapt or face extinction is the blunt message as coaches and players now risk losing games and the chance to challenge for premierships if their teams don’t fall into line with the ARL Commission’s mandate to eradicate head contact.
The goalposts for rugby league have not shifted.
The laws have always been in place to penalise players for head contact, but the reality is discretion is no longer an acceptable approach to a problem that sports all over the world are confronting.
Rugby league is not the only code trying to strike the balance between protecting their core asset - the players - and the fabric of their sport.
Like any change, there is going to be a period of familiarisation and misunderstanding. In rugby league, there will even be the odd brain explosion.
Nothing is ever perfect and in a sport like rugby league it will be near impossible to completely remove head contact from the game but it’s clear now that discipline is more important than ever.
The teams who don’t commit to tackling lower to reduce the risk of accidentally hitting the head will eventually slip up and find themselves down on personnel in games and it could cost them a crucial result.
"This is a moment in time. Any time that you introduce change, there are always people that are resistant to it. It’s human nature," NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo told The Sunday Footy Show.
"Anyone who thinks the game is losing the core of its fabric hasn't been to a game live, hasn't experienced Magic Round.
Ese'ese sent off for tackle on To'o
"This is an intense, physical game, and we are talking about taking the responsible leadership position of eliminating the damage that can be done from dangerous head-high shots.
"I make no apologies for that and I absolutely believe that the decision the Commission have made and the way we are implementing this is right.
"But I'll also say, what do we know about our coaches and our teams? They're professional, they evolve, there's a learning curve, and they'll adapt. The teams that adapt quicker than others will have a competitive advantage."
It was a dramatic but also entertaining Magic Round as 130,059 fans packed Suncorp Stadium across the three days.
Anyone who says the crackdown ruined the spectacle of the event is obviously tough to please as there was stunning football and moments of brilliance all weekend regardless of the law enforcement.
Just like the end of the biff and shoulder charge, the magical talents of the likes of Cleary, Tedesco, Addo-Carr and Tom Trbojevic will still keep turnstiles ticking and fans wanting to see more.
Fuimaono sent off for high shot Papenhuyzen
Of the eight games across Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium, the Eels v Warriors clash was the only match not to involve any players sent to the sin bin or sent off.
In all, 14 players were sent to the sin bin while Canberra’s Josh Papalii and St George Illawarra’s Tyrell Fuimaono were banished for dangerous high tackles that knocked out their victims.
Titans forward Herman Ese’ese then produced arguably the dumbest tackle of the season – rushing up to put a hit on Panthers winger Brian To’o with a swinging arm that left referee no other option but to remove him from the field.
His tackle was a send-off in any era, not just in the middle of the NRL’s clean-act offensive.
It was the first time in the NRL era, and first time in 25 years, that there had been three send-offs in a round.
Papalii sent off for high contact on Tuipulotu Katoa
A decade ago the NRL had two send-offs in the same round during the infamous Battle of Brookvale when Manly’s Glenn Stewart and Melbourne’s Adam Blair were marched for reigniting their punch up whilst on their way to the sin bin.
But while fans and some former players were quick to criticise the excessive use of the sin bin and enormous number of incidents placed on report, it is hard to argue that almost all of the issues were appropriately dealt with as players refused to heed the lessons or advice prior to the round.
The fact Josh McGuire was sin-binned for a swinging arm just eight minutes into St George Illawarra’s loss to Melbourne is proof some players are going to be slower to comprehend the game’s priorities and how they must change their behaviour.
Players who act like Ese'ese will soon become extinct in rugby league as coaches realise you cannot carry risky liabilities and must value discipline over aggression.
"We were the last game, we had all the time in the world to get our own house in order," Titans coach Justin Holbrook said.
"It’s a completely reckless decision and we paid the price for it."
NRL Round Up - Magic Round
Rabbitohs veteran Wayne Bennett and Roosters counterpart Trent Robinson were the voices of reason among the coaching fraternity in backing the NRL’s strong stance while Warriors coach Nathan Brown felt his game – which had the fewest incidents of the weekend – was an indication of middle ground being reached by both players and referees.
"Whether everyone found some sort of middle ground I’m not too sure but we just came into the game expecting there was a possibility we could find someone in the bin you know because every other game had plenty of people in the bin," Brown said.
"No coaches want people to hit people in the head that is for sure but sometimes it happens.
"The game has taken that approach and we just have to adjust and go with it."
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.