Monday 22 January 2018 / 05:36 AM


The Dragons travelling to Canberra to take on the Raiders was a game rife with intrigue. In the context of their seasons, both considered the game must-win, and it showed: whilst it wasn’t the most clinical display from either, it was replete with desperation, finishing in golden point.

Whilst the Raiders walk away happy victors, the Dragons left bitterly disappointed with the tight loss — close games are when the best players stand up, so it doesn’t help console the losers that they were without a key cog to their team, a circumstance brought upon by a flaw in the system that stands to have significant repercussions if not dealt with.

In the 57th minute, Josh Papalii hit fellow Origin rep and Kangaroos (and former Raiders) teammate Josh Dugan with a blatant shoulder charge, making direct contact with his head, forcing him to leave the field for a HIA concussion test. He failed the test and was rendered unavailable for the remainder of the game.

Canberra were slapped with a mere penalty, whilst the Dragons lost their most reliable attacking force. At the time of the incident the Dragons were up 12-6. The game finished with them down 18-14, a 12-2 swing after the fact.

Yet, for sake of properly evaluating the situation, discard who was removed from the field. What took place was unfortunate and who it was definitely compounded the loss, but whether it was Josh Dugan or Kurt Mann that was concussed is simply detail in the grander scheme.

Firstly, it’s important to consider the context of the rule. We’ve made headway — if players who are unfit to take the field are correctly being ruled out, that’s a win. Even though the takeaway from this is a net negative, the sole fact that a system such as this exists is proof of progress. Three years ago, Dugan probably would have continued playing. Safety has to remain at the forefront of the approach, and compromised for nothing. In that regard, what happened was an example of a process that is successful in implementing that logic.

Whilst this development is encouraging, the execution has missed the mark. Again, the way in which it was handled was, under the guidelines of the new system, correct. That, however, is exactly the issue — even when followed to a T, the rules allow, and somewhat promote, an advantage for the offending team, and in turn negatively impact the opponent.

We need to continue to protect the players, but it needs to be done in a way that doesn’t inhibit the performance of their team, or at the very least minimises that risk as much as possible. Losing anyone from the 17 immediately, and significantly, hinders performance.

Simply put, if the outcome of the action so significantly hampers the opposition, the penalty needs to be more severe. Papalii was hit with a grade two shoulder charge that will see him suspended for at least two weeks. That punishes him and his team, but it’s after the fact. Melbourne will reap the benefit of the system, whilst the Dragons receive no compensation.

The punishment needs to be more immediate. Imagine the outrage when a key player is wiped out of a semi-final or an Origin directly due to the illegal action of the opposition. What if the grand final result is swayed by a similar incident?

Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but it’s verification of the NRL’s major incompetence, continuing to be reactive rather than proactive. We might not even need to reach that far to demonstrate the potential dangers — if the Dragons were to fall out of the top eight, a very real possibility, it’s hard not to justify some resentment; a loss coming with their own player removed from the field because of an illegal act by an opponent who remained on the park for the game’s conclusion.

The NRL claims to have a legitimate care for the welfare of its athletes. It only makes sense to elevate the penalty for committing an infringement that can cause a serious injury. The sin-bin presents the most obvious solution. It’s easy to envision a tweak to the system that would see the offending player sat down as punishment for the transgression that led to the concussion. If a penalty committed leads directly to the concussion of an opponent, their team being reduced to 12 men – if only temporarily – seems adequate.

If the act is more severe, whether that be reckless, dangerous or intentional, it can be elevated to a send-off. The distinction between the two needs to come from the evaluation of the action, not of the injury, a current mistake that plagues the system. A dangerous play isn’t any less dangerous because it avoided causing serious injury. Using the Papalii incident, an intentional shoulder charge to the head of an opponent, would undoubtedly be cause for a sin-binning, and possibly more. The heightened risk of a more severe punishment would reduce the frequency of similar plays, and help further negate serious concussions. It’s also fair to assume having teams adhere to the HIA protocol would be much easier if it didn’t risk damaging their chances on the field.

Either way, a better system needs to be put in place to help avoid the situation that occurred for the Dragons on Friday night.

Now the flaw has been exposed, it’s on the NRL to proactively step-in and make changes to thwart any chances of it taking place again, especially before it factors into the result of an even more important fixture.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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