David Leggat: What to do about the Origin biff?

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Trent Merrin of the Blues is sin binned for fighting during game two of the ARL State of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues. Photo / Getty Images.
Trent Merrin of the Blues is sin binned for fighting during game two of the ARL State of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues. Photo / Getty Images.

In their desire to crack down on one of State of Origin's most contentious elements, the comically-named biff, National Rugby League officials have plonked themselves squarely on the edge of a thin, sharp fence.

What to do in the decider, Origin Three, to be played in Sydney on July 17.

The problem is of their own making, but without being overly dramatic, the issue goes to the heart of league.

When Paul Gallen clobbered Queensland forward Nate Miles in Origin One on June 5, New South Wales carried on with 13 players, and won the game.

Queensland cleared their throats and even neutrals acknowledged the referees had got it wrong. Gallen was banned for one NRL game, which angered his Cronulla Sharks club.

His penalty should clearly have applied to the next Origin game under any logical like-for-like assessment.

Why should the Sharks be deprived of their key man while doing his duty, so to speak, for his state?

Anyway officials decided to crack down in last night's contest. Anyone getting their dukes up would be marched.

That led to the ludicrous situation of four players seeing 10 upraised digits from referee Ashley Klein. Only one, New South Wales Trent Merrin, clearly threw punches. He was a goose and deserved to go, although the game as a contest was already done by then.

From under-reaction to gross over-reaction in the space of a game.

And so the NRL have hoist themselves by their own hasty, ill-judged decisions. The key one now is how to approach the third act in league's annual blockbuster.

The heat will be on in Sydney, so do they ...

a/ tell the teams and referees it's open slather again;
b/ insist that the template for the way it will be from now on was demonstrated at Suncorp Stadium, ie wave a fist and it'll be sit down time;
c/ or try and find a sensible middle ground.

Allied to which, do they retain whistlers Klein and Shayne Hayne? They set about enforcing the NRL's rules, but got it wrong. Are they therefore, in this context, damaged goods?

Frankly Brent Tate, Greg Bird and Justin Hodges' sin-binnings were a joke. It hinted at a deliberately iron-fisted maximum reaction to try to drum into the players the need to keep their eye on the ball.

The bigger picture for the NRL is this: does it want to simply keep the game for its own people, taking the view that it only attracts the non-leaguies to three games a year.

More people watch Origin now than ever. On one hand there is a distaster for the violence; on the other there's a lust for it.

So does the NRL sate the appetite of the 'real' league people, ie give greater licence for the biff and damn the torpedoes, or apply the belief that the game and audience is bigger and times are changing. Extrapolate that to a potential rise in playing numbers.

Is the fighting a turnoff in the modern game, where it certainly wasn't in the past?

Let's be honest, a couple of blokes swapping a couple of punches is at the lower end of the scale. Certainly nothing to sit alongside rugby's head stamping, or the reprehensible eye gouging.

"It's embarrassing really, isn't it?" Gallen said of last night's 11-a-side situation.

"The game has been so great for 108 years, for them (NRL) to change it ..

"Origin is a tough game. No one goes out there to fight but sometimes that is the x-factor in the game."

Maybe it should just compartmentalise the Origin series. Don't lay down strict guidelines. Feel free to swing away fellas, fill your boots; just don't gripe if there's consequences.

It's a matter of balance. But whichever route they choose, the NRL area bout to have reason to remember the old line about the impossibility of being able to please all the people all the time.

- NZ Herald

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