Two rounds into the competition and the new shoulder charge rule is already causing great confusion among players and fans. We’ve seen two high-profile cases where players have launched themselves at an attacker in order to save a try and each case has been treated differently; Billy Slater charged, Nathan Merritt ignored.
There comes a point near your own try line where you have to use every ounce of your body to stop a try in the quickest and most effective way possible. Often there is no time to wrap your arms around an attacking player and usually no advantage to it either. If you make a copybook around-the-ankles tackle and the player still scores the try, your coach is going to give it to you.
I ran into former referees boss Bill Harrigan during Monday night’s game between Cronulla and South Sydney. I asked him if it was the final minutes of a grand final and a winger launched himself at an opponent to stop a premiership-winning try, without using his arms, would it be a penalty try? He said he had no idea how they’d rule on that. If Bill can’t work it out, what hope do the rest of us have?
Like with all rules, players and fans just want to see some consistency. I still think the shoulder charge connecting with an opponent’s head was all they needed to outlaw. But now that they have banned the armless tackle completely, they have to rule on it in every situation, in every game.
Consistency is something a lot of teams are also struggling find at this early stage of the season. Only three teams remain unbeaten, with Melbourne Storm and Manly looking the pick of the bunch and South Sydney not far behind. I still like the look of North Queensland, even though they couldn’t handle the red-hot Storm last weekend.
This week it’ll be Canterbury’s turn to face the might of the reigning premiers and I can’t see how they can possibly win. Melbourne proved in last year’s decider that their up-and-in, fast-moving defence is exactly the weapon needed to kill off the potent Bulldogs attack. The Bulldogs were at full strength when they struggled for points in the grand final and now must face the Storm with key players Ben Barba, Sam Kasiano, James Graham and Frank Pritchard out of the line-up.
It’s going to be a tough night for the Bulldogs, but Des Hasler is one of the best in the business and he’ll have a plan. I wouldn’t be surprised if it involved early kicks, both deep and just over the defensive line, in an attempt to take some sting out of that wall of purple.
The other two games I’m looking forward to this weekend will be the Tigers against the Eels and the Roosters against the Broncos. The loss of Keith Galloway is a huge blow to the Tigers who are one of the teams struggling with their early season form. Big Keith’s drive in the engine room will be sorely missed and I can see Parramatta scoring an upset at Leichhardt Oval.
The Roosters are starting to string together their combinations after being caught out in the first round against South Sydney. Sonny Bill Williams is still a few weeks off being back to his best, but the halves Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney are starting to gel and they are developing their patterns in defence and attack. They showed some good signs against New Zealand Warriors last week in a tough battle and I think if they stick to the game plan they can improve again to beat Brisbane.