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Disciplinary process overhaul needed after George Williams debacle

Warrington Wolves star George Williams

The news broke yesterday that Warrington Wolves’ playmaker captain George Williams will miss two of England’s three tests against Tonga after his ban was doubled upon appeal.

Williams had been hit with a Grade B charge and a one match ban for the shoulder charge shot he made during Warrington’s playoff clash with St Helens, but after a failed appeal an extra game was added meaning he will now miss two games.

The disciplinary process is at times questionable and open to abuse, a prime example being the utilisation of reserve fixtures for first team players to serve their ban in, just recently Wigan Warriors’ trio Bevan French, Harvie Hill and Kaide Ellis ‘served’ their one match suspension in the reserve Grand Final.

It could be argued that Hill may have legitimately had a chance to play in that game given that he’s only 20 and had made his Super League debut as recently as 2022, but to expose the rule and thus make it a ‘loophole’ by naming two of your overseas quota players in French and Ellis in the reserve squad is where the issue appears.

That loophole itself has nothing to do with Williams’ ban, or the fact it was doubled, but it simply serves to highlight that problems within the RFL’s disciplinary process are not limited to single instances but are instead widespread and indicative of an archaic system open to abuse and one that is certainly out of touch with it’s fans.

Fans are by their very nature and title fanatic, they often share their passions to the nth degree, but fans and neutrals alike wait every week to see the disciplinary reports and see which players have been banned, but equally who has escaped.

The weekly bulletin from the RFL has become a circus and a sideshow to the sport from which fans, neutrals and rivals are invited to pile in on the fact that ‘player A’ was hit with a one match ban, whereas ‘player B’ escaped with just a fine for the same Grade B offence etc.

That’s just one issue in what is an overarching problem, that being that the disciplinary process is incredibly out of touch with fans and turns people away from the game more so than it does police the game.

Back to Williams and the pressing matter at hand which is that the England captain will now miss two of his nation’s three test matches against Tonga. In a sport that is so often let down by the international game through the disparity between teams, the lack of games, the collapse of major tournaments and so on, then to have your captain, the face of the game and most exciting player forced to miss the majority of the upcoming series is just another huge shot in the foot.

Points to note are that the Operational Rules Tribunal who upheld Williams guilty verdict and added a further one game to his ban on account of it being ‘frivolous’ work are a separate entity to the RFL.

Another point to note is why the extra game was tacked on, the reason given being that the appeal was ‘frivolous’ which per the RFL is to mean: “frivolous means that the appeal, in the opinion of tribunal members, had no basis or merit to it within the rules and laws of the game.”

Williams’ tackle was a clear shoulder charge and it can understandably be argued that appealing innocence despite such an obvious shoulder charge is in fact frivolous, so the issue once again isn’t the fact that it’s a two game ban.

Instead the issue is how the ban is applied, that’s always been the issue as it is with the ‘reserves loophole’. Any ban should only be served in the context of the competition that it was accrued in, Challenge Cup bans should only be for Challenge Cup games, Super League for Super League, Championship for Championship and so on.

As such club grade bans should not be applied to international games unless the ban is for such a high scale offence i.e. drug cheating etc, that the ban is applied in months and years as opposed to a certain number of games.

George Williams should be free to captain England on October 22nd against Tonga and then when returning to club duties serve his ban.

Moreover he should serve his ban in Super League. No reserve match loopholes, not in a pre-season friendly, but he should be forced to miss the first two games of the 2024 Super League season.

At the 2021 World Cup we saw Gil Dudson unable to represent Wales as he served his ban for the red card picked up against Leeds Rhinos in the playoffs. He was robbed of the opportunity to represent his national team on the biggest stage.

In this upcoming England and Tonga series the fans will be robbed of seeing one of the best players in action, George Williams is robbed of international caps, Tonga are robbed in that they play a watered down opposition.

Disciplinary issues in rugby league are confusing and difficult but they can be easily fixed, particularly in this case, serve your ban in the competition it was handed down in and stop shooting ourself in the foot by weakening what should be our biggest strength – the international game.

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