After the bloodletting, some lessons need to be learned

This blog wasn’t supposed to happen, so it won’t be long. I was hoping to get stuck into something more like a concussion roadmap, or at least an examination of the progress of the new policy (hint: it has more hairs on it than a barber’s shop floor).

Or a quick discussion of recent contract announcements (and dis-announcements!) and what they imply (hint: 3rd party)

Or maybe even just settle into the weekend and limber up for another Rubdown, where the issues to be discussed in the media in two weeks time are always to be found (check the brouhaha about to erupt with kick obstructions …).

Instead, I’ve been waylaid having just watched the Sterlo program. Now, I usually enjoy it immensely. Maybe because they dress seriously, and take the game even more seriously. It’s not the Cambridge debates, more the put-your-feet-up rugby league version of pub chat before you’ve hit the cans (the Footy Show being the ‘after’). And even though they won’t part with any of the data used to compile infographics because … because … well, I truly don’t know, national security, perhaps, there is usually enough sensible discussion and analysis to make me glad I invested the time.

Tonight, however, it meandered, nay bolted, into the very sensitive Jordan Maclean judiciary hearing debate. As if the scale of intemperate and emotional remarks by a wide variety of people haven’t flown off the chart already, we all bore witness to the propagation of the same sort of misguided comments within the confines of four minutes of rigorous analysis that:

a) seem oblivious to the sequence of events that led to this horrific event in the first place; and

b) have been scattergunned through the media all day by those who might be better off sitting in a corner and taking inventory of their chromosomes.

My thoughts pre-hearing went like this:Maclean

… which I thought were entirely reasonable, and therefore wasn’t surprised by the outcome.

I take particular issue, however, with the idea espoused on Sterlo that Maclean’s sentence was excessive because ‘hundreds and hundreds of tackles’ … have been … ‘worse than that one, where the man got up and played the football, and there was nothing like seven weeks (suspension)’.

They shouldn’t have been made.

The misunderstanding of the underlying issue is breathtaking (not Matty Johns, I stress to point out, who has it right). In fact, it is the ultimate irony that the NRL has handed down a penalty of enough substance to cause complaint in some areas, but which, had such a penalty been imposed much earlier to reflect the act of illegal tackles (that reflect risk of significant injury) rather the result (a massive bugbear of the Dr!), would have narrowed the range of injury possibilities to the point where this would likely never have happened.

Why? Because the nasty habit of lifting in gang tackles would have been expunged from the game very early. Unfortunately, lifting has been around for far too long and has become an unpoliced habit, and has not materialised since the cannonball tackle was outlawed (as some commentators impervious to embarrassment seem to be suggesting).

Now, I have it on impeccable authority that Jordan Maclean is just the nicest guy you’ll meet, and I believe it. There is no question that the tackle was accidental on his behalf. As I see it, he is the victim of a system that instructed him to tackle in a certain way to bring the ball carrier down. What early-20’s footballer doesn’t do as he’s told as he attempts to forge a career?

Each new cynical version of tackles created and designed to incapacitate or pin an opponent has been allowed to linger by the NRL, who have not empowered the referees to take charge of the situation on the field (or thought to, by the looks of it), nor directed the judiciary or MRC to impose sufficient sanction off it that recognises the enormous tail risk of such tackles. Add three 100kg-plus defenders and the force and weight-bearing is enormous. The ‘she’ll be right, mate’ approach just doesn’t work in the modern world.

The only way to proceed from this terrible incident is to show that something quite profound has been learned. I already believe the NRL is culpable and open to legal recourse which is likely to be tested, but it now must take the time to shape the contours of a sensible, watertight enforcement program that enshrines the safety of players above all else.

Rugby league is a contact sport and accidents happen, but the NRL must do all in its power to minimise the range of those accidents. I don’t want to see 100 guys dropped on their head and commentators say it’s fine because they are unhurt. I don’t want to see what happens to no. 101.

A simple law is not enough – it must be enforced stringently enough to discourage any single event, and even more so, to discourage nasty habits like lifting tackles to creep in, which increase risk of injury. They must be snuffed out hard, and those seeking to take the cynical road be held to account.

I’ll be so happy to get back to the mundane nature of draw strength!


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