The NRL’s much anticipated Magic Round weekend turned into Madness Round thanks to the League’s new high tackle rules, which saw 22 players charged for 24 incidents.
The round saw 14 players sin-binned and three sent off across the eight-game weekend.
There have been two confirmed early guilty pleas from Canberra Raiders star Jack Wighton, who will miss Saturday’s clash with Melbourne, and South Sydney Rabbitohs centre Dane Gagai, who has been fined $1,350 but will not miss any matches for Dangerous Contact – Head/Neck against the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks’ Braydon Trindall.
Gold Coast could be without Tyrone Peachey after he was charged for a crusher tackle and will miss two weeks, regardless of whether he takes an early plea or not.
There were some high and lows for Melbourne Storm winger Josh Addo-Carr as he scored a hat-trick against the Dragons and then fell victim to a hip-drop tackle from Josh McGuire, who will be banned for five weeks.
The Dragons’ luck continued to spiral after centre Tyrell Fuimaono was sent off 11 minutes into the game for a high shot on Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen. Fuimaono will miss five weeks after accepting an early plea.
The rule changes have come due to the Australian Rugby League Commission’s mandate to eradicate head contact.
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said he makes no apologies for the changes and that he believes all teams and coaches will adapt to the new rules.
“This is an intense, physical game, and we are talking about taking the responsible leadership position of eliminating the damage that can be done from dangerous head-high shots,” Abdo said.
“I make no apologies for that and I absolutely believe that the decision the Commission have made and the way we are implementing this is right.”
Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett is backing the new rules, saying it’s about time the NRL took this step to align with the likes of the AFL and Rugby Union’s high contact policies.
“The game’s got to be strong enough to stay at it and you’ll see a change of behaviour,” said Bennett.
“Why is it acceptable in our code to hit blokes in the head when I’ve just talked about two other codes that won’t accept it? Are we right and they’re all wrong? I don’t think so.”
Former NRL star and current Canterbury-Bankstown coach Trent Barrett is sceptical about the rules. He says it’s unrealistic to expect defenders to never make contact with the head of a ball carrier.
“It’s a contact sport and it’s pretty hard not to touch anyone’s head or neck when you’re tackling someone with or without the ball. It’s going to happen; it’s impossible not to,” he said.
NRL’s head of football Graham Annesley has responded to coaches and clubs who said they didn’t know about the change of rules, saying the conduct over the weekend had ruined the Magic Round.
“Clearly we notified the clubs, clearly we notified the media, and we notified the referees. It just wasn’t delivered in the way that was intended by the Commission or management,” Annesley said.
“It’s not a one-round blitz. This type of contact with the head and neck is to be driven out of the game as much as possible.”
Before the next round and if every player accepts an early plea, the suspensions will total 25 weeks and $22,750 in fines will be handed out.
By Teisha Cloos