Shoulder Charge Ban Risks Changing The Very Fabric Of The Game Of Rugby League

When you cross the white line and onto the playing surface of a Rugby League field, the risk level rises.

Rugby League is a tough sport and there are about a million ways to get injured playing the game. When you take the field, you know the risks, and you accept them.

When you become a professional player, things change. You have the time to prepare yourself physically and mentally for a much higher level of competition. When you start earning money to play the game, you accept the higher level of risk that comes from playing against other players that are physically and mentally better prepared for the demands of the highest level of Rugby League there is.

When the Australian Rugby League Commission met yesterday they made one major decision. They banned the shoulder charge. This decision was met by widespread criticism from fans, players and even some officials. I have never seen a reaction quite like it. This was a decision that attacked the very fabric of the game, the game that gladiators play.

More Rugby League players get hurt trying to effect a tackle than running the ball and being tackled themselves. This is to be expected, we play a collision sport and at its highest level we have players up to 130 kilograms running as hard and as fast as they can at the opposition. Players are going to get injured. Accidents are going to happen.

For the number of tackles made over the course of an NRL season, the number of “shoulder charges” is minute. The number of those tackles that make contact with the head or neck, once again is an even lower number. Is this really what the ARLC sat down and come up with yesterday? To ban what is probably the rarest of tackles to avoid the rarest of circumstances?

The fear I have is that, like most rules in Rugby League, a ban on shoulder charges leads to something more.

Over the entire history of the game it has been a put down to suggest that someone “tackles with their arms”. In modern day Rugby League players are taught to hit with their chest. With this in mind, what will officials designate as a shoulder charge?

For me a shoulder charge is bracing your body, leading with your shoulder and running out of the defensive line to hit a player as hard as you can. What if you don’t charge out of the line though, you brace your shoulder, and as the player running the ball reaches you, you hit them as hard as you can? Is that a shoulder charge?

Are we going to see players hit a ball running with their shoulder in legal tackles below the head and now and get penalized or even sent off?

It just seems like a rule that is open to an extreme level of interpretation. It adds a grey area to a sport that is desperate to get ride of grey areas in the rule book.

I feel very sorry for the first referee that penalizes a player for hitting with their shoulder because they have no other choice, this is what their bosses want them to do!

When you get two big human beings running at each other, at the moment of impact both players are bracing themselves for the collision  Not every tackle is the same and at some point we will see a defender brace their arm against their chest in such a way that they will his a player with their braced shoulder. This is a natural part of a collision sport, you can’t just officiate that out of the game. Its human nature!

We all know we need to protect players. The days of intentional high takes are so long gone that Travis Burns NRL career was all but ended when he jumped up top hit a much bigger player in a high tackle last season. Hits that we see these days to the head and neck 99.999% of the time are simple accidents that no amount of officiating can remove from the game.

Physics dictates that if you get a few hundred people to run at each other a few hundred times a year, at some point someone will mis-time something, fall into something, slip into something….accidents are going to happen.

The ARLC would have been better off coming out and saying that any shoulder charge that hits a player in the head gets an automatic, minimum ban of 7 weeks. Don’t ban the shoulder charge completely, but make it clear that there will be no tolerance for contact to the head.

I worry that next season we are going to see legal tackles being penalized  If that starts to happen we will be changing the very fabric of Rugby League. I understand the need to protect players, and I’ve written about the need to look after players safety many times in the past, but Rugby League officials need to make sure they do not change the thing that makes Rugby League the game we all chose.

The high flying catches, the scintillating length of the field tries and the bullet like passes that his a center on chest mean nothing if we take the collision out of the sport. If we do that we might as well all start watching touch football, netball, soccer or even worse, rugby union!

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