I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the NRL announced its new lifting-in-the-tackle ruling this week.
There was never any reason to alter the current interpretation to a total ban, which would have made policing it impossible. Rational heads have prevailed by instituting harsher penalties for essentially the same rule, which is placing others in dangerous or potentially dangerous positions.
I have been vocal about people who have no idea what they're talking about commenting on this issue. I reinforce that view as I continue to listen and discuss with people the merits of tackling in a contact sport. It's not as simple as most think. A recurring theme is the belief that banning lifting in the tackle is the only way to prevent serious injuries to the head and/or neck. In reality, lifting is mostly the safest way to prevent an injury. Three people involved in a tackle, with two up top stopping the player and the ball and one below controlling the legs, allows the tackled player to be turned and lowered to the ground safely onto his back.
What makes it difficult is the tackled player fighting to prevent the same.
As an attacker, he will contest the tackle and continue to make ground as he is trained and conditioned to do. Similarly the defender will work as hard to prevent the attacker from moving forward. There is a lift of some description in a large number of tackles today; outlawing them was a near impossibility. If introduced, tackling would be become a cuddling competition.
Tackles will still go wrong. Defenders think they are in control but reckless acts will cause injury when you don't expect it.
When you think you are in total control but misjudge something and cross into dangerous positioning, you become susceptible. If you are wrong, don't complain as there must be consequences. Don't seek leniency as a first-time offender or scour the books for a precedent to reduce the penalty.
The disincentive to act in such a way is the knowledge of severe suspensions if you're found to have breached the new rules. The unfortunate aspect to the new gradings and harsher penalties, is that there needs to be a first offender.
This first offender, be it a seasoned pro, a superstar or a rookie, must be aware that he will be the guinea pig and can expect a long holiday.
The NRL must live up to their proclamation that a player will be graded heavily and, if found guilty, be handed a heavy sentence. It is with such a message that all players' brains will engage before a lifting motion occurs, which will lead to the prevention of injuries such as that sustained by Alex McKinnon.