The NRL’s blitz on shoulder-charges has been the code’s hot-button topic over the past fortnight, and the League’s crackdown will reach a flashpoint at the judiciary on Wednesday night as three players contest charges stemming from Round 23.
Sydney Roosters backrower Aidan Guerra, South Sydney hooker Issac Luke and Manly winger Jorge Taufua were all slapped with grade 1 charges for seemingly innocuous tackles, but their clubs have opted to fight rather than accept early guilty pleas.
Canberra winger Jordan Rapana (two matches), Souths five-eighth Luke Keary (one match) and Gold Coast forward Lachlan Burr (one match) all took the early guilty plea option after also copping grade 1 shoulder-charge charges.
Following extensive research into the dangers of the shoulder-charge, the NRL banned the tackle ahead of the 2013 season. But it surged back into news cycles a fortnight ago when Roosters prop Kane Evans pole-axed Canterbury counterpart Sam Kasiano in a ferocious collision.
After many players and pundits used the overwhelming positive response to the Evans-Kasiano incident to lobby for the shoulder-charge’s return, NRL CEO Dave Smith reinforced it had no place in the game, and that subsequent offences would be dealt with harshly.
The tragic death of Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles player James Ackerman – after a shoulder-charge in an Intrust Super Cup match by Norths Devils prop Francis Molo (who was suspended for eight matches) that was similar to Evans’ shot on Kasiano – in June justified the NRL’s decision to eliminate the tackle from the game.
Guerra will miss two weeks if he is unsuccessful at the judiciary, while Luke is risking a three-match ban due to loading. The brilliant Souths hooker will be rubbed out until the second week of the finals if his not-guilty plea fails, after he accepted a one-match suspension for a dangerous throw on a Cowboys player just two minutes before his contentious shoulder-charge on Johnathan Thurston.
Luke devastatingly missed the Rabbitohs’ 2014 grand final triumph due to loading on a low-level dangerous throw charge.
The supposed grey area surrounding the shoulder-charge that has many throwing their hands up in bewilderment is when players are merely bracing themselves for impact. Taufua’s ‘shoulder-charge’ on Canberra fullback Jack Wighton clearly falls into that category, with both players involved in a high-speed chase for the ball in the Raiders’ in-goal.
That Wighton rebounded spectacularly did not help Taufua’s cause, but he would appear to have the best chance of the contesting trio of avoiding a ban. Taufua will miss one game if unsuccessful at the judiciary.
High-profile stars Cameron Smith and Corey Parker have publicly declared in recent days that the rules are now clear-cut and their peers need to ‘get in through their heads’ that the shoulder-charge can no longer be part of the NRL player’s kitbag.
But it would be interesting to see Smith’s reaction if he was to miss another Melbourne grand final (as he did in 2008 on a contrary conduct charge) courtesy of accidental contact that was deemed to be a shoulder-charge, or whether Brisbane stalwart Parker would cop it sweet if he was sidelined for a decider after instinctively bracing himself for impact as Taufua did.
Most people within the game now (even if it is somewhat begrudgingly) agree the shoulder-charge needs to be eradicated, but the NRL’s inflexible rules regarding punishment and apparent refusal to use discretion has created a potential finals minefield.
First published at AU Tribune