Players ‘wrecked’ Magic Round not the referees
The NRL is making no apologies for its crackdown on head and neck contact and blamed the ill-discipline of players, not the referees, for "wrecking" Magic Round after a record number of sin-bins and send offs over the weekend.
So far players have been whacked with 20 weeks worth of suspensions, and counting, with two other players facing up to six weeks off yet to enter a plea.
A total of 22 players attracted a record 24 charges from last weekend's football action at Suncorp Stadium, after the ARLC's directive to target foul play, in particular contact with the head and neck.
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And the NRL's head of football, Graham Annesley, has warned players face a similar fate this weekend if they do not clean up their act.
"We had some serious incidents over the weekend … it's not that they [Match Review Committee] are applying a magnifying glass … people have said Magic Round was wrecked because of what the referees did … Magic Round was impacted because of what the players did. Referees responded to that. If these incidents don't happen no one is complaining about the referees taking action because there is no action to take," Annesley said.
"In terms of contact with the head and neck and taking strong action to drive that out of our game, nothing is changing. The Commission is committed to it and management are committed to carrying out the Commission's policy."
St George Illawarra accepted the early guilty plea on all four players, meaning enforcers Josh Maguire and Tyrell Fuimaono have each been banned for five weeks each.
While, Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has lost key players in Josh Papalii'i, who will miss Origin I, for three weeks and Jack Wighton and Josh Hodgson for this weekend's crucial clash against Melbourne.
But both Annesley and ARLC Chairman Peter V'landys, who also warned the NRL would not exist in 15 years if the issue of concussion wasn't dealt with, remain unapologetic about the game's tough stance given player welfare is at the heart of the crackdown.
All body contact and collision sports around the world, including rugby union and the NFL, are working to navigate the reported link between repeated head knocks and degenerative brain diseases like CTE.
V'landys said the NRL is committed to creating the safest possible environment for players on the field.
"We have an obligation to our players and their welfare," V'landys told NRL 360.
"We want our players to leave the game with all their faculties. We need to address it and we need to address it now. Not tomorrow, not next week, but right now.
"I make no apologies that we're going to do everything in our power to keep the safety of our players."
The NRL's set restart rules, which have introduced more fatigue into the game, have been blamed for the spike in head and neck contact.
While Annesley said the NRL would review the rules at season's end, it was "unfair" to blame the added fatigue designed to create a more entertaining spectacle.
"Sixteen of the players who were charged spent less than 40 minutes on the field before they committed their offence. These things weren't happening in the 60, 70th minute fatigued at the end of the game," Annesley said.
"It would be wrong to say fatigue is causing the incidents."
The crackdown left a sour taste in the mouths of not only some fans and commentators but even some coaches and players.
Some coaches said the directive had been "sprung on clubs" but Annesley revealed an email was sent 13 days ago to CEO's, coaches and football managers notifying them of the Commission's stance leading into round nine.
A communication breakdown between the NRL and referees meant the Commission's edict was not implemented when intended.
"Obviously the referees were made aware of this … it just wasn't delivered the way it was intended by the commission or management. Consequently Andrew Abdo and I had two sessions directly with the referees via video conference last week, which we would never normally do."
At the Dragons coach Anthony Griffin has also lost backrower Tariq Sims for a week and winger Mikaele Ravalawa for two more weeks. Ravalawa had returned from suspension on Sunday before being cited for a shoulder charge on Justin Olam.
Gold Coast forward Herman Ese'ese, who was sent off in the 37th minute of yesterday's game against Penrith, is facing up to four weeks for his shot of Panthers winger Brian To'o.
Titans utility Tyrone Peachey is also facing two weeks for a crusher tackle on Penrith forward Liam Martin.
Rising Brisbane forward Jordan Riki accepted a two week ban for a crusher tackle Manly's Haumole Olakau'atu.
The majority of the 22 players charged by the Match Review Committee after the weekend's matches are free to play after paying a fine.
Josh Maguire, Jaydn Su'A, Sitili Tupouniua, Lachlan Burr, Tevita Pangai Junior and Tyson Gamble were fined for making careless high tackles.
Christian Welch, Sione Katoa, Ava Seumanufagai, Angus Crichton are facing fines for dangerous contact, while Moses Leota, Dane Gagai and Jordan Riki have been fined for dangerous contact with the head or neck. Penrith fullback Dylan Edwards was fined for contrary conduct against the Titans.
Originally published as Players 'wrecked' Magic Round not the referees