League: Shoulder charge not missed from game

By Cameron Leslie

Shoulder charge? What shoulder charge? While NRL commentators hype up the outlawing of shoulder charges in the NRL, Northland parents should not be alarmed. Shoulder charges have not been allowed in grassroots rugby league since 1995.

The rugby league community seems undecided about the Australian Rugby League Commission's (ARLC) decision to ban the shoulder charge, with NRL players and coaches admitting officials faced a delicate balancing act in appeasing fans and protecting the game's stars.

Rugby League Northland general manager Alex Smits said the law change been blown out of proportion.

"We haven't had shoulder charges allowed in New Zealand rugby league since 1995, and it hasn't affected the flow of play," said Smits.

"It's being blown up a bit, without a doubt. There are still big hits and hard runs without the shoulder charge."

The controversy has not been helped by the game's stars with players like Sonny Bill Williams and Manu Vatuvei taking to Twitter to voice their opposition.

"You serious about banning the shoulder charge!! That's what made the game interesting!" Vatuvei wrote.

However, NZ Warriors doctor John Mayhew backed the move. "I'm sure a lot of the fans are disappointed it takes an absolutely gladiatorial aspect out of the game but the injury rate in the no-arms tackle is unacceptably high," he said.

Smits agreed with Mayhew, he said the reckless use of a shoulder has no place in the game; and, in Northland, the tackle area is something that already is strictly managed and there is to be no contact with the head.

"That's probably what we suffer with at grassroots level, is that they [the parents] see the big hits and shoulder charge on television and don't want their kids playing. [But] what you see on television is far from what you see in local rugby league."

The ARLC reviewed a detailed report into the shoulder charge, conducted by Sydney Roosters chief executive Brian Canavan, and accepted a management recommendation that the increased size of players was creating a situation where the shoulder charge could lead to an unacceptable injury risk.

They found that although the shoulder charge accounted for only 0.05 per cent of tackles in the season, 17 per cent resulted in contact with the head of the attacking player, and 5 per cent in injury. Smits said there needs to be a line drawn in the sand to clarify what a shoulder charge is deemed to be.

"I see the tucking in of the shoulder as a shoulder charge but your Ben Matulino sort of shoulder tackle ... is an okay form of tackle," said Smits.

"The tucking of the arm is what I call reckless; I think there is still room in the game for a shoulder but without the arm being tucked."

Smits has no doubt the game will move on from this issue and players will get back to doing what they do best, play league.

"There is plenty in the game without that [the shoulder charge], with over 300 odd tackles in a game ... When was the last time you saw a game without any tries involved?"

- Northern Advocate

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