Matty Johns lashes out amid calls for NRL to outlaw 'awful' act

The rugby league great has joined brother Andrew in demanding the NRL take action.

Andrew and Matty Johns, pictured here at NRL games.
Andrew and Matty Johns have both called for the NRL to eradicate the third-man-in tackle. Image: Getty

Matty Johns has joined brother Andrew in calling for the NRL to outlaw third-man-in tackles completely. Controversy erupted this week after the revelation that Penrith winger Taylan May will miss the entire 2023 season due to an ACL injury he suffered in the World Club Challenge.

May was being held upright by two St Helens players before Agnatius Paasi hit him around the upper part of his legs and dragged him to ground. The Panthers have since revealed that May ruptured his ACL in the tackle, but the NRL found no foul play due to the fact that Paasi made the initial contact around May's hip.

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'Cannonball' tackles have been outlawed for some time, making it illegal for the third man to dive at an opponent's legs if there are already two in the tackle. But the act is perfectly legal so long as the contact starts at the hip and there is no unnecessary force.

However May's injury has exposed the farcical nature of the rule given Paasi's actions were legal but still caused a long-term injury. Speaking on Friday, Matty Johns called for the third-man-in tackle to be completely eradicated from the game.

“If I was the RLPA (Rugby League Players’ Association), Clint (Newton) is really fighting at the forefront for the players at the moment, but on the other side of it, they need to protect the players from themselves,” Johns said on SEN radio. “You’ve got to go in there and make a statement on these tackles.

“In the past I know I’ve said I'm not in the business of telling teams and players how they should tackle, but these aren’t tackles. These are not tackles. They’re career-killers.”

Taylan May is out for the entire 2023 season after rupturing his ACL. Image: Getty/Fox Sports
Taylan May is out for the entire 2023 season after rupturing his ACL. Image: Getty/Fox Sports

Earlier this week, Johns' brother Andrew expressed similar sentiments. "Get that tackle out of the game,” Johns said on Wide World of Sports. “You don’t need that third person coming into the tackle. If two players, and not even two players, two big boppers, have got a hold of the player, you should not have a third player coming in at the knees.”

Fellow rugby league great Brad Fittler added: “It’s got to go, seriously. That’s awful.”

Andrew Johns has previously called for the style of tackle to be banned completely, saying last year: “When there’s a two-man tackle and there’s no momentum, we have to eradicate the third person coming in. If there’s two men in the tackle and they can’t get the player down, then one has to change his technique and go down.

“That third man should not be allowed to come in. It’s dangerous. They’re worried about the third man destroying their knees and ankles.”

NRL's statement on Taylan May incident

In a statement provided to the Sydney Morning Herald, the NRL's match review co-ordinator Luke Patten confirmed the tackle had been reviewed but wasn't deemed illegal. He said: “Members all agreed that the actions of Paasi were not careless and did not warrant a charge”.

“Firstly, the initial point of contact by Paasi was high on May’s hip/upper thigh,” Patten said. “For a tackle to be considered dangerous and spearing at the legs, the Match Review Committee must see forceful contact at or around the knee of the attacking player.

“Paasi also drops to his knees at the point of contact, which we encourage players to do, and did not drop his body weight onto the back of May’s lower legs. This is one of the key indicators that we would look for in a hip-drop tackle.”

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