The recent groundswell of support from current players, former stars and many others within the game for the NRL to lift the ‘no-punching’ edict is as confusing as it is infuriating.
It flies in the face of the Australia-wide ‘one punch can kill’ campaign, the acute awareness of the effects of concussion in sport, and the desire to keep Rugby League as an attractive and safe option for parents and kids in a competitive market. The fact of the matter is, in this day and age, going around punching people – in sport or in general – is unacceptable and warrants a penalty.
But the baffling element to this argument is the insinuation that punishment for punching in Rugby League was only introduced after the NRL’s blanket warning in the wake of the Paul Gallen-Nate Myles dust-up in Origin I last year.
Players have been getting sin-binned for punching and fighting since the sin-bin was introduced in 1981. Punching, or striking, has incurred a suspension if deemed serious enough since Dally Messenger was running around.
Willie Mason has been at the forefront of the crusade to reclaim the right to fight, and was at it again on NRL 360 on Wednesday night following the niggle-fest furore surrounding Origin II. “Some bloke just needs to swing a punch and see what happens,” the veteran enforcer said.
Mason swung a punch during the 2006 Tri-Nations tournament, decking Great Britain hard man Stuart Fielden. What happened was a one-match suspension.
While not technically a punch, Roosters stalwart Luke Ricketson reacted to some niggle back in 2004 and pole-axed Cowboys halfback Nathan Fien. He missed a Grand Final on a striking suspension.
And then there’s what can happen when players go too far with a punch – or it’s too well executed, depending on which way you look at it – and it becomes a king-hit, like David Fa’aologo’s infamous right hand on Braith Anasta. Fa’aologo was reacted to some perceived niggle (Anasta even conceded the penalty, and was later sin-binned himself for fighting as seen in the video below) and got seven weeks.
If a player has had a gutsful of being held down too long or having a forearm rubbed all over their face, they can take matters into their own hands and punch on – but they have to be prepared to wear the consequences. Consequences that have been around for decades.
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