The NRL has come under fire for an apparent crackdown on kickers being targeted by tacklers, with one particular incident in Cronulla's thumping win on Thursday night leaving commentators such as Andrew Johns and fans baffled. The Sharks thumped the out-of-sorts Cowboys 44-6 at PointsBet Stadium in a match that saw two North Queensland players sent to the bin in the second half.
Nicho Hynes-inspired the Sharks with another man-of-the-match performance to once again stake his claim for State of Origin selection. The Cronulla playmaker was also at the centre of a controversial first half incident that left the league world scratching its head.
Having already set up his side's opening try of the night to Siosifa Talakai in the first minute, Hynes soon found himself being tackled by North Queensland's Cohen Hess as he was in the process of putting in a towering attacking kick for the home side. Hess appeared to tackle the Sharks man right as he put up the bomb, but was pinged for tackling the kicker in the air.
Late or right on time? Was this worthy of a penalty?
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The NRL has made protecting kickers a priority in the game, but commentators and fans insisted there was nothing wrong with the tackle. Rugby League 'Immortal' Andrew Johns was among a number of the game's greats who insisted the crackdown on kick pressure had gone too far.
“Is this a new rule?” Johns asked sarcastically on Nine's coverage. “Last week, there was a challenge from Zac Lomax on Luke Keary... That is simultaneous. That’s not high, it’s not late.”
When co-caller Mat Thompson suggested Hess got Hynes "in the air", Johns disagreed. “I don’t think so,” he replied. “I think the left foot was still on the ground of Hynes. That’s pretty much simultaneous. I think that’s a harsh penalty against Coen Hess.”
Former Storm and Roosters premiership-winning halfback Cooper Cronk was also left baffled by the call. “For me, there’s not much in that at all,” Cronk said. “It’s not late, it’s not high, he’s wrapped his arms around. The only thing is is that Hynes’ legs are off the ground.”
“They’ve definitely changed their approach, the referees, on protecting the kickers,” he added. “Over the past couple of weekends, there’s been some soft penalties given away.”
NRL questioned over kick pressure crackdown
Cronk said he understood the need to protect the safety of kickers, but said it had reached a point where they have become almost untouchable. “Coaches are going to have to change their mentality here for their players because a few years ago you couldn’t push, then they went to you having to wrap your arms. Now you basically can’t even touch them,” Cronk added.
Former Dragons premiership winner Jamie Soward shared similar frustrations to Cronk and other fans, tweeting that the NRL's crackdown was killing the aspect of kick pressure in the game. “#NRL just make a blanket rule. You can’t tackle the kicker at all. There’s no incentive to put kick pressure on. That’s good old fashioned kick pressure which as a kicker you expect,” he tweeted.
“There’s dangerous contact with kickers when it’s late. That wasn’t late that was good pressure.”
#NRL just make a blanket rule. You can’t tackle the kicker at all. There’s no incentive to put kick pressure on. That’s good old fashioned kick pressure which as a kicker you expect.
This is NFL (qtrback) policing. 🤷🏽♂️
— Jamie Soward (@sowwowofficial6) April 27, 2023
I’m just still bewildered about that penalty to Hynes from the hit from Hess.
It wasn’t late or high. It’s a rugby league play. As long as it’s not late or high playmakers should expect something like that.
— troy worner (@troypod78) April 27, 2023
No. What is Hess meant to do here? He was a fraction of a second late. The only alternative is to not even try and let Hynes kick with pressure. It is a contact sport, defence needs to be given an opportunity.
— Darren Withers (@dazzwitto) April 27, 2023
— Craig Menzies (@CraigMenzies6) April 27, 2023
The Cowboys' season went from bad to worse on Thursday night, with Chad Townsend (calf) forced off in the second half and almost certain to join fellow co-captain Jason Taumalolo on the sidelines for next week's Magic Round meeting with the Sydney Roosters. Fullback Tom Chester also suffered an ACL injury, with Jeremiah Nanai (hip-drop) and Hess (trip) both were sin-binned and potentially set to be suspended.
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