Josh McGuire has spent the longest pre-season of his 14-year NRL career working on avoiding the wrath of match officials but the Dragons forward is relieved to know that he returns on Sunday against Newcastle with a clean slate at the judiciary.
McGuire missed the opening five rounds due to suspension and he was also banned for five matches after joining St George Illawarra midway through the 2021 season, in which he managed just 13 appearances in the Red V.
With 19 charges since making his NRL debut for the Broncos in 2009, including 10 in the past three seasons at the Cowboys and Dragons, the former Queensland Origin enforcer now has the worst judiciary record in the Telstra Premiership.
The 32-year-old admits he needs to change his ways but changes to the judiciary system and the decision to wipe offences before this year mean he would have been suspended for one match instead of five if the two high tackles in round 25 had been committed this season.
“I am disappointed in myself and I have to learn my lesson, but it is good with the judiciary now that you don’t have any carryovers from the last 10-years, so it is good to have a clean slate and I just excited to get back out there and play footy again,” McGuire said.
"You can just play your normal game of footy and something little is not going to end up being five weeks. You haven't got something hanging over your head."
A cornerstone of McGuire’s game has been his aggression, but he now concedes the need to be more careful as there is little leeway for players who overstep the mark.
"There's a fine line when you're trying to play aggressive football, but I can't step over that line and let my teammates down," he said.
"I've probably been guilty of going across the line, but I've never wanted to fall below the line.
"That's something that I've always prided myself on, trying to bring aggression and being aggressive for a team, but I've paid the penalty too many times and it's costing my club."
McGuire said he had worked on defending under fatigue to try to ensure he doesn’t mis-time the target area in a tackle when he returns against the Knights at WIN Stadium.
The Dragons have won just one match this season and discipline has proved costly, so players are aware they can't afford sin-bins or further suspensions after forwards Tyrell Fuimaono and Jayden Su'A spent time out serving bans.
"When you're trying to be aggressive, you've got a split second to re-adjust, but the rules are you can't touch anyone high,” McGuire said. "I've got to learn and everybody in the NRL has to learn that's the way it is.
"The game has changed from when I first started playing. It's for the betterment of the players and that's what the NRL want to do, so if I want to keep playing NRL and doing what I love, I've got to change and I know that."
Dragons team-mate Tariq Sims has also had to adapt his tackling technique in recent seasons after a string of judiciary charges and backed McGuire to do so, as well.
“You’ve got to," Sims said. "Josh and I came into grade around the same time and the rules are completely different from when we started to what they are now. I’ve had to take my licks along the way and you have got to adjust your game.
"It is a really hard adjustment but he has had a longer pre-season than most so he has had a lot of time to think about it and do what is best for him and what is best for the team."
Sims said the stricter interpretation and lower tolerance for high tackles or dangerous contact was for the protection of the players and he supported the NRL's stance.
“The game has changed for the benefit of the players," Sims said. "Around the HIA stuff, they have knocked it out of the park. I think that is unbelievable.
“It’s fine line but the rules are the rules and we can’t argue them on the field or cry about them later. We need to make sure we are going out there and playing to the letter of the law and doing what we can to make sure we try our best to win a game."