The NRL has spoken a fair bit about getting rid of these ugly techniques, but when it comes to dishing out the harsh penalties needed, they haven’t really followed through. Someone is going to have their neck broken in a crusher tackle one day and the only way to stamp it out of our game is to hand out harsher penalties.
The cannonball tackle, where a third defender dives in at the legs of a player going nowhere, is the biggest offender when it comes to ugly techniques. We are seeing a couple of these tackles in almost every game and nothing is being done about it. There have already been several injuries as well, yet players are getting away with it.
The ban on shoulder charges has seen some heavy suspensions dished out, but the cannonball and crusher have never been part of our game and are much uglier. I’d like to see a crackdown on them, but it won’t happen at this time of the season, not with the big finals matches on the way.
We get a good taste of what’s ahead this Friday night when South Sydney take on Sydney Roosters to decide the minor premiership. The Roosters are coming off two consecutive losses and they will do everything in their power to avoid going into the finals on the back of a hat-trick of defeats. They have started to wobble badly and this is not the time of the year to be down on confidence.
The Rabbitohs on the other hand are coming together nicely with key players back from injury and suspension and momentum clearly on their side. I think the Bunnies will win this one comfortably, wrap up the minor premiership, and be ready to take on either Manly or Melbourne in the first week of the finals. The Roosters on the other hand will be in real trouble going up against either of those two after three-straight losses.
At the other end of the top eight, I see no surprises coming out of the final round. Newcastle have to beat Parramatta to lock up seventh position. At home, on an old boy’s day, with everything to play for, I can’t see the Knights setting a foot wrong. Wayne Bennett knows exactly what is required from his players at this time of the year. They’ll beat the Eels and deservedly take their place in the finals.
North Queensland Cowboys have their fate in their own hands as well, and only have to win their game against Wests Tigers to wrap up eighth spot. At home, in front of a huge crowd and with Johnathan Thurston in control, I can’t see an upset. A lot of the teams in the top eight will be looking nervously over their shoulders at the Cowboys, who could cause some real headaches in the finals. I tipped them to win the comp at the beginning of the year and although they looked like they wouldn’t make the finals at one point, I still think they are a very good side right across the park.
I was happy to see the launch of the new NRL Nines competition to be played in Auckland before next season. I remember how exciting it was playing Sevens. The Knights even won one of those pre-season Sevens competitions. Nine players should be a good balance between the real game and a more open, attacking style of contest. Having seven on each team opened things up a bit too much and it was more like touch footy.
It’s a great concept and having all the NRL teams in Auckland at once can only help with the growth of rugby league in New Zealand. The long-held fears of overworking players, that ultimately led to the demise of the Sevens competition, have obviously been subdued by the large sums of money on offer.