Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys has launched a fiery defence of an NRL crackdown that saw multiple send-offs and sin-binnings and a record number of charges over Magic Round.
Over the three days of action, the match review committee placed 24 players on report, with three sent off and 14 sent to the sin-bin as the crackdown on dangerous play was enacted.
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The tough blitz - aimed at discouraging contact with players' heads and protecting the welfare of the sports stars - was met with mixed responses from fans.
While many agree that the safety of the players is paramount, others argued that the strict interpretations left little room for error and threatened the fabric of the game.
Speaking on NRL 360 on Monday night, V’landys was unapologetic about the crackdown, insisting that concussion was the biggest issue facing the game right now.
The league chief says the game's lawmakers have a duty to protect the long-term welfare of the players, bearing in mind everything science has taught us about concussion.
“We have an obligation to our players and their welfare. We want our players to leave the game with all their faculties,” V'landys told the panel.
“Coaches have got this situation where they want to win at all costs, and I appreciate that. But my job is to make sure of the players’ safety, and if we don’t do something about concussion we’re going to have a long-term problem.
“We need to address it and we need to address it now. Not tomorrow, not next week, but right now.
“I make no apologies that we’re going to do everything in our power to keep the safety of our players.
“This is for the future of the game. Any administrator in a contact sport who doesn’t address concussion, they are doing the wrong thing.
“I take this very seriously, and I shouldn’t hold my position as chairman of the ARL Commission if I weaken on this.
“It’s the single biggest issue. We had the challenge last year of COVID... we’ve now got to unite and beat the concussion issue, because if we don’t do it now in 10 or 15 years there won’t be a game.”
V'landys also hits back at a suggestion from NRL 360 host Ben Ikin that teams weren't sufficiently warned about the new directive or there was a lack of consultation with the various stakeholders of the sport.
The ARLC chair also insisted that they weren't new rules being policed by referees, merely the tougher enforcement of pre-existing ones so as to protect the players.
V'landys says it's essentially up to the players to be more careful with dangerous contact and that the good coaches had already been drilling this into them.
“The good coaches will immediately change the players’ style and behaviour, and they will have a competitive edge,” he said.
“Those coaches have already started to do that, they’ve changed the technique of the players and their tackling techniques. They won’t get any players sent to the sin bin, they won’t have any players sent off, they will have a competitive advantage.
Onus on coaches and players to adapt
As of Monday afternoon, 20 weeks worth of suspensions had been handed out by the MRC, with five players yet to enter a plea - two of whom are facing a total of six games banned.
According to the NRL's head of football Graham Annesley, they're charges that would have been handed out in any week, regardless of the NRL's new stance on tougher on-field punishment for contact with the head or neck.
Annesley said the record number of charges, which almost doubled last week's 22-year record of 14, is because dangerous contact is happening more often.
"People have said that Magic Round was wrecked because of what the referees did," he said.
"Magic Round was impacted because of what the players did.
"Referees responded to that.
"If these incidents don't happen, no one is complaining about the referees taking action because there's no action to take. It's disappointing."
However, he could not explain why incidents of foul play and dangerous contact happened more in round 10 than at any other weekend in NRL history.
Annesley said there is not yet enough data to judge whether rule changes brought in at the start of the season have fatigued players to the point where tackle technique is affected.
"I'm hoping it's just one of those unusual spikes that we have in any season ... but this is a big number, obviously," he said.
"I'm hoping it's a spike that can't be explained, and then next week it comes back down again.
"It's unfortunate that it happened on Magic Round, it's unfortunate that it happened on the weekend where the Commission said we're going to take a much tougher view of this stuff on the field, but off the field nothing changed.
"Off the field they were reviewed as they would be any other week."
As for the edict to referees to be tougher on contact with the head and neck, Annesley said the NRL simply had to catch up to every other contact sport in the world that is taking concussion seriously.
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