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Safety measures turning rugby league into “f***ing rugby union”, says Sky Sports pundit

Super League disciplinary news. Wigan Warriors prop banned. Jon Wilkin calls out player safety rules

Sky Sports’ pundit Jon Wilkin has claimed that Rugby League is fast becoming akin to “f***ing rugby union” due to the number of safety laws that have been introduced.

Jon Wilkin retired from the sport back in 2020 and in the short time that has passed since he hung up the boots, plenty has changed. Much of that change has in fact come in the off-season between the 2023 and 2024 campaigns, something that saw a huge period of adaptation at the start of the season.

How much has Rugby League changed to become safer?

Referee Tom Grant shows St Helens star Mark Percival a red card as the new Super League disciplinary laws continue to take centre stage.

Credit: Imago Images

The major change focused on tackle height and force, with those laws set to go further next year and lower the legal tackle height even more. Those changes have been aimed at limiting the number of concussions in the sport but altering tackle technique isn’t quite as simple as it sounds for men who have played the sport all their life.

As such, Round One of Super League saw a whopping 16 charges but following the incredibly controversial send-off for Nu Brown in Round Two against Warrington, there’s been a settling-down period in which players and officials have adapted.

Part of that adaptation came after the RFL released a statement that specifically confirmed that Nu Brown should not have been sent off as they admitted an error in the legislation.

Jon Wilkin has now highlighted that, noting: “I agree with head injuries and they’ve done a really good job. They went too far at the start but they’ve done a really good job. Just leave it now.”

The ex-St Helens captain was making his comments on The Bench podcast and despite his initial praise for the current state of the game in terms of head contact laws, Wilkin would go on to make outrageous statements about just how safe the can be made.

“Too consumed with safety” – Former Saints skipper’s bold claim

Jon Wilkin

Credit: Imago Images

Much of the discourse around concussion in sport and rugby league in particular has stemmed from the ongoing legal case in which the RFL are being sued by a number of former players for failure to protect and/or inform about the dangers of the sport.

As such, insuring the game has become a more difficult task than what it was twenty, ten, and even five years ago. On that matter, Jon Wilkin called for insurance that would actually make a different and not simply be a ‘box-ticking’ exercise.

He argued: “People are going to play it so we need to find a way to get it insured that isn’t just a tick box. I think we can get consumed with the optics because in Lloyd’s in London, where they derived the insurance market from, as long as there is certain movements to be seen to improve the safety, then it makes it more investable, more insurable.”

He’d then go on to make the first of several extreme suggestions, stating: “Because of the litigation that hangs over the game, I feel like we’re consumed with safety now. It’s like safety’s everything. Let’s get more reckless. F*** it.”

“Where does it end?” – Jon Wilkin scoffs at ‘cancelling the kick-off’ and makes Rugby Union comparison

Jon Wilkin

Credit: Imago Images

After his prior comment about the current interpretation of tackle height laws having hit a sweet spot, with Wilkin demanding ‘Just leave it now’, co-host Jenna Brooks reminded him of the impending rule changes from 2025.

To that, Wilkin hit back: “I don’t think it (tackle height) needs to be lowered. I think we’ve addressed the head injuries and it’s dangerous and bad and it’s reduced the number of head injuries.”

Head injuries are still among the most common injuries in the game though with several players leaving the field and failing Head Injury Assessments in Round Eleven of Super League, including but not limited to Tex Hoy and London captain Will Lovell.

Down under, there’s been plenty of talk about cancelling the kick-off with the view being that kick-offs are where concussions have the biggest chance of happening. Last week the RFL informed media that whilst kick-offs have a “high incidence rate”, the majority of concussions occur in general play due to the limited number of concussions.

It was the concept of cancelling the kick-off that saw Jon Wilkin deem the sanitisation and safety element of the sport as having gone too far, maintaining danger as a ‘selling point’ of the sport.

He ranted: “There’s now this talk of cancelling the kick-offs, where does it end? Do teams just stand 40 yards apart and kick the ball to each other because that’s f***ing rugby union, isn’t it?”

“I think safety is obviously important, but there are some jobs in life that are inherently dangerous, and we can’t underestimate the attraction of that danger to our sport.”

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    May 14, 2024 at 11:43 pm

    I’m a carpet fitter If I could claim off somebody in the future because my knees are knackered I would be grateful.
    Unfortunately it’s a hazard of the job.
    So I’m sure deep down what John is saying is, it’s the profession you chose nobody forced you and its a game thats been played for over a hundred years and you play a lot less games for far more money than your predisseors.

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