Is there a bigger blight on rugby league than the succession of wrestling inspired manoeuvres designed to slow up an opposition’s ruck speed?
Winning the tackle and slowing the play the ball speed has become close to the biggest goal for every team in every match but it’s come at a price – injuries and the six-again call.
The NRL’s response to injuries has been to outlaw every “innovative” method employed by coaches who are determined to either get an edge over their opponents or to not fall behind others.
At best, ruling that nefarious tactics such as the grapple, chicken wing, cannon ball, crusher, rolling pin, pressure points and finally the hip drop can draw a suspension is simply a stop gap measure. Another potentially dangerous manoeuvre will soon rear its ugly head as coaches continue to stretch the laws of the game.
Whether or not it’s a club south of the border leading the way, effective methods spread with the same evil efficiency as a killer virus and soon all clubs have some measure of guilt.
But there is a simple answer, and one that might have the rugby league purists singing hallelujah.
Make the one person tackle a dominant tackle.
As things currently stand, what is deemed dominant is surely arse-about. Defences are rewarded when piling multiple defenders into the tackle. It’s an advantage based on numbers rather than skill, with extra time afforded to lay on the ball carrier and slow up the tackle.
In contrast, the more skilful and safer legs tackle has the referee barking for the tackler to immediately release the ball carrier, and even though many of these are terrific cover or scramble tackles, failure to release quickly often results in a sin bin.
Past arguments have suggested that a multiple defender tackle should not be allowed. That’s obviously absurd as you can’t expect extra defenders to not get involved when the attacking player is battling to cross the line or if he looks like he’s pulling out of a tackle.
Coaches look for ways to gain an advantage, so if the NRL’s goal is to reduce the injuries brought about by the “gang tackle” and it’s associated evil byplays, let’s award the single player tackle an advantage. Call dominant for every tackle executed by a lone defender, where that defender starts and completes the tackle on his own.
By calling dominant, the player is given more time to hold onto the attacker- whether that time is utilised by the tackler to get to his feet or to have another player get into a marker position. Furthermore, penalise any attacker who tries to kick/lash out when securely held in a one-person tackle.
In contrast, multiple player tackles would not qualify as dominant, with referees immediately calling for defenders to move.
I’d even suggest taking it one step further.
The one-on-one strip rule has a massive grey area with multiple defenders peeling off once one of them has secured the ball. Again this rewards the multiple player tackle.
How can the NRL expect to reduce the impact of such tackles when they continue to find ways of rewarding them? It makes no sense!
Therefore, removing this varied interpretation and only allowing a strip to occur in a one-on-one tackle provides further encouragement for players to develop their individual tackling technique.
Were this change in interpretation be introduced, it surely wouldn’t be a bridge too far.
As a youngster learning footy skills, I was only ever taught how to execute a legs tackle. There was never instruction on gang tackling technique. All players would relate to such younger days when they learn to play safely. It’s in their kit bag of skills, regardless of how thick the layer of dust on it might be.
If the NRL is serious about reducing injuries, and as frustrated about the dangerous tackles as I suspect they are, then maybe, just maybe, putting the classic legs or sole player tackle back on the pedestal might just be the answer.
It’s time to re-define the dominant tackle.