Malcolm Boyle: Now NRL must shoulder blame

2 comments
Shoulder charge ban at NRL level ridiculed by top players but administrators appear adamant with decision. Photo / NZ Herald
Shoulder charge ban at NRL level ridiculed by top players but administrators appear adamant with decision. Photo / NZ Herald

So League has banned the shoulder charge at NRL level. Apparently it has been outlawed in New Zealand league since the mid 1990s, although only at schoolkids' level. Given the state of New Zealand Rugby League communications in recent years, I'd missed that development.

So far, the NRL has just dipped its toe in the water with an announcement about what will "likely" happen, presumably to measure the moral outrage.

Almost to a man, the sport's top players ridiculed the decision but the administrators appear adamant. It will be to their - and the game's - detriment. The major beneficiary of such a move is likely to be rugby union which has legislated against "no arm" tackles for a number of years now. Ironically, just as returning superstar Sonny Bill Williams goes back to the 13-man game, the NRL is moving to ban his trademark defensive weapon.

The administrators' move is a knee-jerk reaction to a problem which is covered by the rules anyway. Rugby league has long had a rule which outlaws attacking the head in any form and it appears to be used regularly and consistently by referees.

The irony is that the blazer wearers have done nothing about the reverse situation where the ball-carrier uses his head to target would-be tacklers.

Many more stitches are needed to sew up head cuts on this basis than knockouts from shoulder charges. A well-executed shoulder charge tackle is a "bell-ringer" (which does not necessarily involve the head) and should be refereed accordingly.

The shoulder should be a legitimate target but not the head and it seems to me sensible for referees to stop the game to act on any suspect tackles aimed at the head. Doesn't league do this now?

If league goes too far in this area, my bet is that we will see offensive running aimed at defenders' heads and we'll have to go further in diluting what is regarded as the world's toughest (and most exciting) football code. You've only got to look how American gridiron has developed with helmets being used as weapons. Before the league administrators (re)act, they should ask why gridiron has an increasing problem with concussion and what protections there are from attacks with and from helmets.

It is often said rugby union is a contact sport - rugby league a collision sport. There is a difference. My game was at a modest level of league. I estimate I suffered eight or nine concussions during my playing days, more through a targeted shoulder charge.

I accept that it is likely that those sporting days and the consequential head trauma may well have contributed to the fact that I now have Parkinson's disease. But not one incident was from a deliberately foul or dangerous act.

I took the risk of playing a high-impact game but didn't regard that risk as any greater than many other sports and lay no blame on other players, administrators or referees.

I believe this issue deserves a lot more thought than what has been given it to date.

- Herald on Sunday

Your views

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 24 Oct 2014 00:03:38 Processing Time: 429ms