Is it time to ban the shoulder charge?

Julian Rinaldi may have woken up on Monday morning feeling a little worse for wear after London’s game away to Hull FC.

Rinaldi felt the full force of Sam Moa’s shoulder charge, which resulted in the 32 year-old Bronco being knocked out cold before he had hit the ground.

Moa was consequently dismissed from the field after it was revealed in slow motion replays that the Tongan international had made contact directly with Rinaldi’s head.

But despite the recklessly dangerous shoulder charge which seriously concussed the Frenchman, Moa and his coach Peter Gentle felt they were harshly dealt with by referee Richard Silverwood.

It is easy to see why Gentle feels aggravated by the decision to send Moa off. Huddersfield’s Tommy Lee was only placed on report for a serious high tackle on Warrington’s Lee Briers 24 hours earlier.

However there is little doubt Moa deserved to see red. The shoulder charge itself was dangerous, and reckless contact with the head in that manner had to be dealt with the most severe on-field punishment. It was made worse when Rinaldi lay unconscious on the floor as a result of the contact. Don’t be surprised if Moa receives at least a two game ban. 

At normal speed the challenge appears not to have made contact with the head. Due to the camera angle from the KC Stadium’s television gantry, the tackle looked hard yet it was difficult to see any unfair play.

Only when the incident was slowed down, and viewers were given a viewpoint from a camera in the corner did it become apparent Moa should have walked. Moa lines up Rinaldi perfectly, but mis-times his challenge with the shoulder which resulted in contact with the head. The intent to knock Rinaldi off his feet was clear, therefore it is the defender’s responsibility to time the contact perfectly. Otherwise he is forced to face the consequences, and Moa did so with good grace stopping to check Rinaldi was OK before leaving the field.

However the reaction to Silverwood’s decision to send off Moa has been met with a mixed response. We asked our Love Rugby League Facebook users if they would have sent Moa off, and whether the shoulder charge should be outlawed as it is in rugby union.

Many suggested that Moa’s contact was legal, despite his shoulder making contact squarely in the face. Their argument consisted around the fact that rugby league was a tough game, and that Rinaldi should “man up.” Others pointed to Lee’s tackle on Briers the previous day, and questioned why that wasn’t a red card. 

Facebook user Mike Young wrote: “Never a red, or even a yellow for that matter. Rinaldi had tried to duck and/or weave away from Moa’s tackle, which placed his head in the shoulder area of Moa, it was a legal shoulder barge and the ref was completely in the wrong for sending him………its rugby league, not a nana’s knitting session.”

Damien Kenchington agreed, writing: “It was a good hard tackle! Not his fault his sholder (sic) is as high as head! Dont realy (sic) no how u can perposly (sic) aim 4 a head wi (sic) a sholder (sic) barge!”

Other users at the other end of the spectrum couldn’t agree more with Silverwood’s decision. They mostly argued that it was a dangerous challenge, with many claiming it to be a deliberate act.

Mark Fullilove wrote: “Definite red card. The very fact that Rinaldi was left out cold on the floor exemplies (sic) this further. Good to see a referee having the guts to take such action.”

Christine Haney agreed, arguing: “That shoulder tackle was vicious he could have snapped Rinaldi’s neck. Yes the red card and sending off was warranted.”

The shoulder charge itself can be a dangerous challenge, but as the majority of Facebook users said, when used it adds to the excitement to the game. 

This is true, and a the most prolific example of this are Sonny Bill Williams’ hits in the NRL. The shoulder charge is what made Williams the player he was before moving to rugby union and boxing. 

However Williams never made contact between his shoulder and his opponent’s head. He always hit them squarely in the chest, which caused the ball carriers to be knocked off their feet but fully conscious. For the supporters, it makes excellent viewing. Rugby League has tried to give the supporters what they want since 1895. 

The execution of a shoulder charge is particularly risky from a defensive point of view. When executed correctly, the crowd are on their feet and the attacking side’s mentality can often be changed for the worse. The psychological advantage is huge for players in the defence.

However when the shoulder charge is executed badly, it offers a reward for the attacking side. The defender is often off balance if he misses the ball carrier, exposing the defensive line briefly. Smart players will take that split second advantage up the middle of the field.

But woe betide any player who mis-times their shoulder charge like Moa did. With the strength that players have since the inception of full time professionalism, it can be dangerous. 

The shoulder charge should be kept legal, but a badly timed challenge like Moa’s should see red every single time. 

Matthew Hinchley summed up the situation perfectly. He wrote: “It infuriates me how many narrow minded people there are. Yes, shoulder charges are a great part if the game when used in the correct manner. The fact of the matter is, intentional, reckless or just plain careless, Moa’s shot connected with Rinaldi’s head.”

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