The shoulder charge was banned recently in the NRL much to the annoyance of the majority of supporters and players, but here in Super League we opted to keep the challenge as a legal tackle. Now after just two rounds there are calls for this decision to be overturned and the shoulder to be outlawed.
At the weekend, Zak Hardaker of Leeds and Theo Fages of Salford were knocked out after shoulder challenges with the latter stopping breathing according to Salford assistant Sean Long. Now Long and Leeds coach Brian McDermott have publically spoken out about the shoulder charge and asked for it to be banned. Personally, I’m divided on the issue.
Rugby League has always prided itself on the toughness of our players and even the recent Bradley Wiggins Sky TV advert comments on how tough our players are, so hard tackles are seen as part and parcel of the game. 182 players took to the field in Super League last week and we’re only focussing on the 2 that were knocked out. How many were hit by shoulder tackles and got up again? The shoulder tackle when timed to perfection gets the crowd on their feet and really shows the sport as the tough spectacle that it is when the player on the receiving end gets back up again. The hit on Maurie Fa’asavalu by Thomas Leuluai springs to mind which you can see on YouTube. Watch that video and tell me you didn’t enjoy it.
I fully understand that as a sport we have to look after the players that entertain us and we cannot have players knocked unconscious on a regular basis and we certainly can’t have players stopping breathing because of a late challenge. The question is though, where do we draw the line? If we ban the shoulder charge then we further water the toughness aspect of the sport down and we’re soon left with a spectacle similar to football in which every touch is deemed illegal. The number of penalties we see nowadays in the game for a high shot that is nothing of the sort is already far too high. The penalty against Con Mika at the weekend for “direct contact with the head” being a prime example. Mika made no attempt to hit the Wakefield man in the head and only did so through a freak accident, actually hitting him with his head as opposed to his shoulder. Yes the Wakefield player was hurt but it was not the fault of Mika and he should not have been penalised for it. If Amor had gone down with a hamstring strain would a penalty have been given? If Mika had purposely looked to take the head of Kyle Amor off of his shoulders then I would fully agree with not only a penalty but a red card. The Michael McIlorum red card for Wigan against St Helens last season being the perfect example of what we should be trying to stop.
I personally can’t remember any serious cases of players being injured from this type of challenge other than maybe 3 or 4. Is that enough to see a challenge outlawed? On the other side of the fence, we can’t wait until something serious does happen in order to act, but if we ban the shoulder challenge then how long before we ban any form of swinging arm regardless of where it makes contact just in case the contact is with the head? I personally think that the current rule of “direct contact with the head” is enough at the current moment even if it is refereed to the exact letter of the law.
I don’t think the shoulder charge will still be allowed come playoff time in Super League and I just hope that it doesn’t see the game fritter into tick and pass. We have enough problems as it is.