Written by Oliver Kellner-Dunk
Rugby League legend James Graham expressed grave concern over how the game will look in the future on Fox League’s “The Big League Wrap” last night when giving his opinion on Thomas Flegler’s high tackle on Sitili Tupouinua in the Roosters’ 21-20 win against the Broncos on Friday night.
Graham claims that if the NRL continues down their current path of cracking down on high tackles the game will more resemble Rugby Union, the code that Rugby League was modified from back in the late 1800s.
“No one wants to see contact with the head. But if that’s what we want our game to look like… I don’t know,” Graham said.
“Who are we trying to appeal to there with penalising that sort of play? Who are we appealing to as a sport?”
“We might start looking like rugby union if we’re not careful. You watch some of their games and as a spectacle, you’re just like ‘wow, are they really being penalised for that? What is that for?’
‘That’s a love tap’: Controversial penalties mar crazy finish to Roosters win in ’drama-fest’ 🤯❓
— Fox League (@FOXNRL) August 13, 2021
A big issue that many people believe Rugby Union is facing is the fact that the game has slowed down and is, therefore, a less appealing product in part due to the stoppages from penalties, so one can understand Graham’s logic; however, this goes beyond an entertaining product, as we are talking about the health and safety of players for the long-term.
There are countless former players now suffering from issues such as memory loss from the consistent blows to the head that they would receive.
In round 10, the NRL implemented a crackdown to snuff contact to the head out of our game, which was met with widespread anger from fans, but it is important to realise that over time players will be able to adapt and we will see a sizeable drop in tackles made where contact with the head is made, which in turn will result in fewer stoppages for penalties, so we must think about the long-term positive impact that said crackdown will have on not only the health and safety of our players but the number of stoppages we will have in the future too.
With that being said, in recent weeks the crackdown has become less strict and therefore largely inconsistent from game to game, an issue that must be resolved quickly for fair officiating and so players can adapt faster.