NRL legends butt heads over contentious hip-drop incidents

The NRL has been accused of 'jumping at shadows' when it comes to cracking down on hip-drop tackles.

Pictured right is NRL great Brad Fittler and the left image shows a hip-drop incident during Manly's 18-8 win over Melbourne.
NRL great Brad Fittler weighed in on the hip-drop debate during Manly's 18-8 win over Melbourne. Pic: Fox League/Getty

Debate around the hip-drop tackle is raging across the rugby league world after a drama-filled Friday night in the NRL. Roosters star Nat Butcher was sin-binned for an incident on Cronulla's Briton Nikora in his side's 22-12 loss in the early game, while Melbourne's Trent Loeiro was also given 10 minutes in the sheds for an incident in the 18-8 loss to Manly.

Loeiro's was one of three tackles that resulted in a sin-binning during the Sea Eagles' brutal win over the Storm. Five players were also placed on report as Manly bounced back from a mauling against the Panthers, with Lachlan Croker crossing late to seal the contest and help Manly jump back into the top four - at least temporarily.

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In a game full of talking points, Loeiro's sin-binning for a hip-drop tackle on Haumole Olakau'atu proved one of the most contentious. The Storm forward grabbed the Manly player by the waist and dropped his body towards the back of Olakau'atu's legs as he brought the Sea Eagles forward to the ground.

Loeiro's tackling motion had the potential to be dangerous but he made no contact with Olakau'atu's legs and the Manly player was uninjured in the tackle. Regardless, referee Adam Gee saw enough to penalise the Storm and place Loeiro on report, with league great and Channel Nine commentator Brad Fittler insisting it was the right call.

" That's a hip drop. He had him by the hips and he dropped his body weight, that's a hip drop," Fittler said on Nine's coverage. "It wasn't as bad as others (but) if he lands on his legs then all of a sudden you can do some real damage.

"What they (clubs) need to do, they need to actually train a different way because quite obvious that it's actually instinct. "A lot of these tackles are in really tight moments where people are breaking free, so the natural instinct is to grab them by their hips and drop the body weight. Clubs need to start searching for a different way to make their tackles."

NRL greats disagree over hip-drop tackles

Storm legend Cameron Smith vehemently disagreed and said it shouldn't be deemed a hip-drop if the offending player doesn't actually make contact with the ball-carrier's legs. The former Queensland and Kangaroos captain claimed the NRL and its referees were "jumping at shadows" trying to crack down on the tackles.

Seen here, Channel 9 commentator and former player Cameron Smith.
Channel 9 commentator and former player Cameron Smith has called for better officiating over hip-drop tackles in the NRL. Pic: Getty

"Are we refereeing our game on optics or exactly what happens? Smith asked. "I completely understand when someone drops their backside or their hip into the back of the legs, but Loeiro there, he's just holding on, he lowers his weight down, but never at any stage does he put weight into the back of Olakau'atu's legs.

"I just think at the moment it's a hot topic in our game and particularly with the referees, they're trying to keep up with it all and I just think we're jumping at shadows."

Fellow NRL legend Johnathan Thurston said while he understood Smith's point, he insisted those tackles need to be stamped out of the game, to protect the welfare of players. "Players need to take better duty of care," Thurston said. " We want to eradicate it out of our game because it's starting to cause a lot of injuries as well and players are running the risk of missing weeks. Just get it out of the game."

Roosters coach Robinson - who has been a strong critic of the hip-drop tackle - said referees had to take into account the impact on the tackled player, when considering their punishment for hip-drop tackles. The Roosters may be without Butcher for their Anzac Day meeting with St George Illawarra after his sin bin for a hip-drop tackle on Nikora, who was also uninjured in the incident and went on to score the match-sealing try late in the game.

The Roosters coach argued that officials dishing out on-field sanctions should factor in the impact of the tackle, which is defined by a defending player dropping his weight onto the back of an attacker's legs. He warned that games could be reduced to "10-a-side" if the incidents keep being officiated the same way.

"There's no injury whatsoever, but the cause of what happened in that moment, Butch gets 10," Robinson said. "If you did every one of those, we would be having 10-a-side.

"I understand the ones where the attacker is injured but there was no injury. "He (Nikora) played for 70 minutes and came off that left foot and scored a try, so I think he was okay."

with AAP

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