Wednesday 22 November 2017 / 01:44 AM

MATCH REVIEW FARCE AS WOODS CLEARED OF SPEAR TACKLE

On Saturday night, Australia defeated a spirited Lebanon outfit 34-0 in a match which saw Aaron Woods put on report for a copybook spear tackle. Today it was revealed that the Canterbury-bound prop has escaped any suspension.

Many people agreed that it didn’t warrant a suspension; but the simple fact is, it most definitely did.

There has been a horrible trend over years gone by, which sadly hasn’t changed in the wake of the tackle that ended Alex McKinnon’s career, whereby a player’s suspension is overwhelmingly defined by the severity of injury caused, or whether an act was intentional or accidental.

Firstly, there’s genuinely only one person who knows if an act was intentional or accidental – and that is the person who committed the act. And they will always say it was an accident, knowing the penalty is smaller.

Secondly and most importantly, the laws are in place not for the sake of it, but for the safety of the players. Laws come with punishments that are designed to act as deterrents, so that players don’t consider breaking the laws.

Some accidents are clearly that, undoubtedly. But it is hard to accidentally lift someone off the ground, turn them around and have them land head first. There is a reason spear tackles were so heavily punished throughout the 1990s and 2000s: because they can do immense damage in a few short seconds and ruin not just a player’s career, but their quality of life as well.

Some of the arguments supporting the decision not to suspend Woods were along the lines of:
-“He was let down gently”
-“It was an accident”
-“No one got hurt”

The problem with all of these excuses is that if something did go wrong, the player on the receiving end of the tackle can suffer horribly.

And then everyone would be demanding long suspensions. But by then it’s too late.

Using the argument of, “It would’ve been legal in….” is stupidly irrelevant. Citing the lax laws of the past is not the basis of a sound argument.

Peddling the tired line, “The game is getting soft” is even more absurd. Protecting a player’s welfare should always be the priority. People used that argument when the shoulder charge was banned. But the tragic death of Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles player James Ackerman proved that the ban was justified.

The game cannot be seen to be suspending players based on injury severity or intent. They should be judging on whether an act outside the rules has occurred. If yes, then dish out a suspension. If no, then no suspension.

Accidents happen in every game. Many have zero impact, some have devastating impact. The laws of the game, like everywhere in life, are in place to minimise the devastating ones. There are always things we could have done differently to avoid accidents, hence why they also deserve to be punished if they lead to an illegal act. Improving a player’s decision-making process and technique ensures a safer, cleaner, yet still tough game for all involved.

Woods clearly put his hand between Mannah’s legs and was trying to lift him. The rest is elementary: Mannah was lifted, went past the horizontal, then head first towards the ground.

It was a classic spear tackle and should warrant a suspension every day of the week, no matter where you are in the world or what team’s jumper you are wearing.

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About the author

Andrew Ferguson

A rugby league historian and stats buff – most notably as the brains behind the phenomenal Rugby League Project resource – Melbourne-based Andrew has written extensively for Rugby League Review and the Men of League magazine, and is a valued addition to CBS’s rugby league stable.

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