NSW star Greg Bird’s State of Origin campaign goes on the line at the NRL Judiciary on Wednesday night, as NRL players express widespread confusion at the consistency of the game’s crackdown on dangerous lifting tackles.
League bosses had no choice but to improve ways of eradicating the potentially devastating lifting tackle from the game after the Alex McKinnon tragedy.
However their handling of the sensitive issue has been criticised by some players for its irregularity.
The first major test case since the crackdown is Bird, who faces the prospect of being ruled out for the entire Origin series with a six-week ban if he’s unsuccessful with a bid for a downgrade at Rugby League Central on Wednesday.
Manly forward Anthony Watmough spoke out in defence of his NSW teammate, pointing out that when sentencing Melbourne prop Jordan McLean to a seven-week suspension earlier in the season for his tackle on McKinnon, the NRL took into account the severity of the Newcastle forward’s spinal injury.
If Bird fails in his bid for a downgrade he will cop a six-week ban and miss the entire State of Origin series, despite the man on the receiving end, South Sydney’s Bryson Goodwin, landing on his back and getting up unhurt from the tackle.
Watmough questioned whether there was an inconsistency in the NRL’s interpretation.
“There was no malice, no harm. So if they take into account the player’s injuries in one case, why don’t they take into account that this player wasn’t injured? He (Goodwin) got up and tried to start a fight,” said Watmough.
“There was no injury. It was a copybook tackle so I don’t think he should have been penalised as harshly as he did.
“He seemed to just pick him up and put him on his back. It didn’t look like he was in a dangerous position where I’m from. It’s a tackle that’s been in the game for 100 years.”
If Bird successfully has his charge downgraded to a grade two, he will only miss Origin I.
Gold Coast will highlight “examples” of other lifting tackles and are likely to argue that Bird’s tackle wasn’t as bad as Wests Tigers’ centre Tim Simona’s challenge on Titan Aiden Sezer at Leichhardt Oval two weeks ago.
Simona put his hand between the legs and Sezer landed on his head, yet the Tiger only copped a grade two charge.
The Titans are disappointed Bird’s been charged with a grade three when there was no hand between the legs and Goodwin landed on his back first.
South Sydney star Sam Burgess says players are well aware that there’s been an NRL crackdown but admits he is still confused by the mechanics of its enforcement.
“I just question whether you get some of the game’s best players in terms of Greg Bird sitting out for a long time,” he said.
“I think six weeks is a long time. I’d hate to see him miss Origin.
“It’s a tough one. As a player, you’ve got to play by the rules.
“But on the other side of it, Bryson got up walking and played the rest of the game.”
The Rabbitohs will also be at the judiciary for a similar incident on Wednesday, with hooker Apisai Koroisau challenging the grading of a grade two dangerous throw charge which could see him miss three weeks.