NRL football boss Graham Annesley hasn’t held back in his criticism of players for continuing to make contact with the head and neck of opposition,
Annesley, in an interview with Fox Sports, also said that the entire rugby league community needs to change its attitude towards foul play following a recent crackdown on high contact.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Victor Radley, Jordan Pereira, and Josh Curran have all been handed a yellow card for high shots in the past few weeks, while Canterbury’s Jack Hetherington was sent off for a horrendous tackle on Valentine Holmes.
Whilst the issue of concussion continues to be raised in sport in general, the NRL has introduced an 18th-man rule which allows a team to sub a player in for an injured one, if that player was concussed as a result of foul play during the game. Yet, the substitute will only be available if the offending player is sin-binned or sent off, hence the increased referee intolerance to such actions.
That has led to criticism that referees are ‘softening’ the game, but Annesley backed the game’s officials and turned on the players instead, highlighting the worrying increase in charges and suspensions in the past five years.
In 2017, a total of 82 charges were issued and 50 weeks’ worth of suspensions handed out. Compare that to the 166 charges laid and 117 weeks’ suspensions in 2020 and you can see why the NRL chief is unhappy. Even more worryingly, 57 charges have already been given in just the opening seven rounds of the NRL in 2020 as well as 47 weeks’ worth of bans.
“Even more disturbingly, there’s been a significant increase in charges and players being suspended for incidents that involve contact with the head and neck,” Annesley said.
“I think we’re at a point now in the game where everyone needs to accept that contact with the head and neck is just no longer acceptable.
“There needs to be a bit of an expectation reset by players, by clubs, by the media, by the fans generally. Players can’t be allowed to make contact with the head and neck of other players and expect no consequences.
“It’s just not acceptable in this day and age.
“I know this will horrify people who will say ‘the game is going soft, they are love taps half the time, didn’t to any damage’… just think about how many players, how many of our great players in recent seasons have had to retire prematurely because of head related injuries.
“It can’t continue. Despite all the critics, despite all the people who think we’ve gone soft, the game is more committed than ever to protect players on the field of play.
“We’ve seen an increase this year and it’s disturbing. Players have got to get the message, and if they don’t get the message they can continue to suffer the consequences.”
Protecting the players is key, especially when considering the eye-opening increase of illegal contact around the head and neck. In 2017 there was a total of just 13 charges and eight weeks’ suspensions for offences concerning high contact, yet this year there’s already been 26 charges and 37 weeks’ suspensions for high, illegal shots.
“Players just aren’t getting the message,” he said.
“Some will say ‘that’s because you are going harder at these things’, and perhaps there is an element of that. But the fact is this is happening because the incidents keep happening.
“If players aren’t breaching our rules they aren’t being charged. We don’t want to charge players, but we have an obligation to protect players.
“The penny has to drop here. Players can’t play with an attitude where ‘I don’t have to worry about the consequences of my actions’… they have to take more responsibility for the consequences of their actions.”