Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Hugh McGahan: Binning punching from Origin is the right thing for rugby league

Paul Gallen of the Blues punches Nate Myles of the Maroons. Photo / Getty Images
Paul Gallen of the Blues punches Nate Myles of the Maroons. Photo / Getty Images

I can't see what all the debate is over the 'ban the biff' from the game and players being sent to the sin bin for throwing a punch. Isn't this already in the game?

Referees have the discretion to send players off for foul play and fighting is included as foul play. Why are there a number of people crying over this? Is it because they are guaranteed to be sent to the bin for punching, as there is no discretion in the interpretation?

I have been a critic of refereeing and the interpretation of the rules where inconsistency is always an issue. Here, there is no interpretation and you know where you stand if you cross the line; get on with it.

Yes, I understand it is Origin football and it has been part of the fabric since game one in 1980; the confrontation is what has attracted us to the concept for years. But we live in a different society today and what was accepted 30 years ago shouldn't necessarily be accepted today.

Head-high tackles and eye gouging were common then but not today, for obvious reasons, and it hasn't detracted from the spectacle.

There are aspects of the game which need to be policed and fighting is one of them. They are not banning it, because you can't; punching is a response to an action. It is likely that a foul has been committed and a person will respond to that foul.

If it is a punch, then that player must understand that he will be sent to the bin for doing so; end of story. I am not saying that banning the biff will stop the biff; it just means there is a consequence.

I was never a person who could ever consider himself a fighter and many a punching bag can testify to that, so my perspective is a passive one. In an aggressive sport where heavy contact is constant, tempers are going to flare, but it doesn't mean you have to punch someone in retaliation.

Rugby league has enough fair contact in it to balance whatever you may feel is an indiscretion on you. Tackling someone fairly on their blind side is always a leveller and an action guaranteed to get spectators off their seats. I read a comment that New South Wales lock Greg Bird made this week where he states that if he was punched, he would punch back.

This simplistic response is instinct and it takes time to over come such a response. If Bird was eye-gouged,would he gouge back? He wouldn't, as the game doesn't allow this to exist anymore. Bird's response would be to protest to the ref and ask for action; the game has moved on from that type of play.

The same will happen in time with punching and it is not sterilising the sport, as punching does not define Origin football or rugby league in general.

Implementing the rule does not mean it will not happen but how long will punching continue if your team loses the game because you're in the bin? How long will you be selected if you choose to punch? Give it time.

- Herald on Sunday

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Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Hugh Joseph McGahan MBE was a renowned rugby league player and coach who represented New Zealand in no less than 53 test matches, captaining 17 of them. Beginning his career in Auckland he later moved to Sydney where he played over 100 matches for the Roosters, finishing his career in 1991 as captain-coach of the eastern Sydney outfit. Accolades were never far away from the impressive Kiwi lock and in 1987 McGahan jointly won the prestigious Golden Boot Award, the first row forward at the time to win the award. Hugh McGahan’s international career was similarly impressive coming to the fore in 1982 after scoring a remarkable six tries for the Kiwis against Papua New Guinea in Auckland. Hugh Mcgahan ended his career with distinguished honours as he was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to rugby and later inducted into the NZRL Legends of League. He continues to write sports columns for the New Zealand Herald.

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