Rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns has delivered a brutally frank opinion about the state of the game, amid the controversial new NRL crackdown on contact with the head and neck.
The new edict aimed at combating concussion issues in the game was on show again on Thursday night as the North Queensland Cowboys beat the Newcastle Knights despite being reduced to 11 players at one point, after two men were sent to the sin bin.
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The Cowboys won their fourth straight game at home courtesy of a 36-20 win in Townsville, but much of the post-match focus was again on the NRL's crackdown as Cowboys' Jason Taumalolo and Lachlan Burr were both sin-binned for head-high tackles.
With State of Origin getting underway in less than three weeks, Johns said officials had set a worrying precedent around the sin bin that he fears will be detrimental to the game.
The league great said the sin bin for Burr was particularly soft and he's worried that the new crackdown is taking the physicality out of the game.
"What is happening? He just puts a loose arm out, honestly, it wouldn't bruise a grape," Johns said in commentary on Channel Nine.
"It just takes the whole contest out of the game. Watching the game, the contest and how the game is playing out, I just feel deflated watching it.
"It's going to continue, and if someone loses an Origin series or a grand final for this, I just, I don't know what we want the game to be...they've made their bed.
"Coming into Origin III, the game is on the line, the series is on the line, there's more fatigue in the game. They can trot out all the spin and BS they want at the NRL. The players are under more fatigue because of the six-to-go.
"Defence is about footwork, under fatigue, game on the line, everything at stake – you get wrong-footed in the grand final with 10 minutes to go in desperation you clip someone, the contest goes out of it.
"It's a brutal game, I just don't know, mate, I just don't know. I'm sitting here just scratching my head."
Johns' comments came after Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V'landys defended the NRL crackdown and insisted that concussion was the most serious issue facing the game right now.
“We need to address it and we need to address it now. Not tomorrow, not next week, but right now," V'landys said on Fox Sports.
“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."
Johns' younger brother Matthew, speaking on his Fox League show The Late Show with Matty Johns, said he agreed that dangerous contact needed to be addressed in the game.
However, he said the current enforcement of the rules needed tweaking, even suggesting that a penalty of five minutes in the sin bin should be considered.
“I think the intention and the principle of the rule is correct, but I think it needs a bit of tweaking,” Matthew Johns said.
“You could see the referee the second time — the Taumalolo one was fair enough — but Lachlan Burr was wrong-footed, but you can see Ashley Klein go ‘oh geez, I’ve got to do this”.
Coach refuses to criticise crackdown
Cowboys coach Todd Payten, who had lost players to the bin for a second consecutive match, refrained from taking aim at the tough new crackdown during his post-match press conference.
"It is what it is. Players are going to have to work harder and harder and harder.
"All my focus is how we're going to manage it moving forward."
While Payten's side cruised to a 16-0 lead after 20 minutes with tries to Murray Taulagi and Reece Robson, they quickly let the Knights back into the game following the back-to-back sin-bins.
The Knights capitalised with tries from Sausao Sue, Enari Tuala and Lachlan Fitzgibbon with the game tied 16-16 at the break.
Although the Knights were first to score in the second half, the Cowboys went back to their rampant left edge and scored through Taulagi and Holmes.
Late tries for Mitchell Dunn and NRL debutant Heilum Luki put the game to bed, as the young, inexperienced Knights will rue errors that cost them in the second half.
Valentine Holmes finished with a try and two assists, while Scott Drinkwater was exceptional in left attack, bagging three assists.
Taulagi backed up his hat-trick with 153 running metres and 12 tackle busts.
With the win, the Cowboys enter the top-eight for the first time this season.
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