When Paul Gallen put a combination on Nate Myles chin in State Of Origin one, it was a major talking point in the game. It didn’t matter what else happened in the contest, the way Gallen went after Myles was a moment every single person that watched the game wanted to talk about.
The reaction from the media was typical. It was over the top. It was sensationalized. Everything about the State of Origin series is blown way out of proportion by the media. They do that because we as consumers lap it up! After game one of the 2013 State Of Origin series we as fans were talking about New South Wales sensational win, and Nate Myles getting belted by Paul Gallen. The media simply gave us what we wanted.
The National Rugby League looked at the reaction and was obviously horrified. New NRL CEO David Smith obviously was not happy at all. He wanted harsher punishment for anyone that throws a punch in a Rugby League match. In many ways I see where he is coming from. After all, David Smith was put in place to run a business. Its a lot easier to sell a business to the masses if you have the least amount of controversy as possible.
The NRL made it clear, any player that throws a punch in a Rugby League game will be sent to the sin bin. Their intentions were noble, but the side effect could not be anticipated….
Rugby League at its highest level is a collision sport. Rugby League players are highly conditioned athletes that are trained to participate in a sport that will take a physical toll on their bodies. Controlled aggression is the name of the game. It takes a certain type of person to walk out on an NRL field and open themselves up to the risk of being physically damaged in a collision. Every player that crosses that white line knows what they are doing. They accept the risks. They want to play this game!
In this physically aggressive sport, sometimes things are going to boil over. Most of the time nothing comes of it. There is a push and a shove, and play continues. It is very rare that punches are thrown. When there is a fight in Rugby League, 99% of the time it is two aggressive players facing off and throwing down.
With this new rule in place that forces referee’s to sin bin any player that throws a punch, it has turned every single confrontation into a highly charged situation. When one player grabs another by the collar, everyone in the stadium is waiting for something bad to happen. By telling players they can not throw punches, all the NRL has done is turn every confrontation into a potential powder keg!
The biggest topic in Rugby League since the edict came down from the NRL to sin bin players for throwing punches has been….you guessed it….fighting. By trying to turn the game away from fighting, all the NRL has done is made everyone focus on fighting.
Here we are going into State Of Origin three and the biggest headlines are players talking about fighting! It is the exact opposite of what the NRL wanted to see happen!
Rugby League in Australia has had 105 years to get to where it is today. Over the course of that time there are certain things the game needed to change. Foul play, real foul play, has all be been eradicated. What we call a head high tackle these days is a million light years away from the swinging arms that were once common place in the game. Through all of the reforms in the game, Rugby League had found itself in a pretty good position in terms of knowing what to do when a fight breaks out.
Calmer heads usually prevail. As long as no one was kick hit or sucker punched, referees normally left it to the judiciary to sort things out after the match. That way punishment is served with the luxury of hindsight and perspective. That way, in a much calmer atmosphere, punishment is handed out in the right manner. Not by a referee surrounded by 26 pissed off players, with a game on the line, with thousands of fans screaming “Off! Off! Off!” and knowing that any decisions made could decide the contest.
Rugby League knew how to handle fighting, and that is why you rarely saw a fight on a Rugby League field. Now, since the sin binning players for punching became mandatory, we have seen more fights than we have seen for well over a decade!
One of the major criticism of the David Gallop administration was that is was too reactionary. Too often the NRL used to read the tea leaves of media types and reacted to them. It was hoped that the NRL under David Smith would not react to every little criticism of the game. That it would confidently run a game that has been doing pretty well for itself over the last decade.
Rugby League doesn’t have too many problems. It is a great sport to watch. On the field, things are working pretty well. We don’t need to change what we see, we just need to change how the game is run as a business.
David Smith did his job. He stepped in and made a decision to protect the business. In the process, he effected what we see on the field. It turns out he made the wrong decision. It turns out the the change he made actually created a problem on the field of play.
The NRL needs to reverse its decision to sin bin every single player that throws a punch. Forget the media. Don’t listen to the games critics, they don’t like the game anyway. Punish people that fight on the Rugby League field the way they should be punished. The way they have been punished for years. Suspend them after the fact. Let the game play on. After all, its a pretty good game. We don’t need to ruin it by backing referees into a corner based on rules that have been put in place to protect the business.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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