Let the stars play: Salford Red Devils MD believes Match Review Panel process is ‘ruining the game’ and labels system ‘insane’

Aaron Bower
Paul King, Salford Red Devils

Salford Red Devils MD Paul King has called on the Rugby Football League’s disciplinary process to ‘stop self-harming the game’ by banning players for low-grade offences instead of fining them financial sums, admitting the sport has ‘got to get a grip’ on the controversial Match Review Panel.

The Red Devils will go into Sunday’s huge tussle with Warrington Wolves without in-form forwards Kallum Watkins and Oliver Partington, after both picked up suspensions at the hands of the Match Review Panel.

Salford appealed Watkins’ ban, which was issued for a high tackle on Wigan’s Morgan Smithies, twice without success – leaving King admitting he was left frustrated at the way the process has been handled.

And King has spoken exclusively to Love Rugby League about his frustrations surrounding the process, which has come in for yet more criticism in recent days.

That criticism has centred largely around how the MRP and subsequent tribunals appear to differ on their opinion of incidents, with Salford successfully clearing two King Vuniyayawa suspensions this week, the latest in a series of bans that have been overturned on appeal.

Paul King: ‘People want to see the stars play’

Clubs agreed last year to implement financial punishments for players rather than suspensions – but King wants to see that mantra extended further. He told Love Rugby League: “If it’s clear and serious, if someone runs up and punches someone, it’s a ban. If it’s a head tackle though.. is that a ban?

“Hit them with bigger and bigger fines the more often they do it – even take the money out of the club’s central distribution if you want to be really extreme.

“But I urge those involved, don’t start setting this as a new precedent. Don’t ban people, people want to see the stars play.

“Stop self-harming the game, have your best players available and not banned for stuff like this.

“I understand the need to protect the sport from those people who are involved in cases against it at the minute but there’s got to be a balance.”

King continued: “We’ve said at the start of the year that the mantra was to let them play.

“People want to see the stars play, this Sunday you have a do or die derby match that has huge ramifications for both clubs, it’s live on Channel 4 and it should be a blockbuster but we’ve had a third of our starting pack banned for… well, for what? If they’ve got injuries, there’s not a lot you can do but it’s a massive own goal for the game.

“They’ve got to get a grip on how the Match Review Panel works. There’s no thought that goes into it at all commercially, it’s just insane. It’s ruining the game, it’s ruining the sport.”

Salford disappointed by Kallum Watkins outcome

King also admitted how frustrated he was by the process of Watkins’ appeal, adding: “You’re talking about wording now, is it careless or reckless? Reckless is a ban, careless isn’t… it’s an English language exam basically these days. It’s getting to the stage where you’ll go in with a solicitor it’s that bad. Tell me, did Kallum hurt Morgan Smithies with that tackle? Morgan dipped into the tackle for the record, but we’re not allowed to show that.”

He also said he felt the punishments for tackles like Watkins’ have become sterner in recent weeks, with bans returning at the expense of fines, something the RFL denied when approached by Love Rugby League.

King said: “It’s all changed in the last two weeks, and I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s a reaction to certain things, whether they’ve changed their approach because of something we don’t know about.

“But I will say it’s nothing to do with poor officiating because Chris Kendall had a really good game last week, so it’s not about the referee at all. It’s about the Match Review Panel and the process.”

Rugby Football League respond

In response, an RFL spokesperson said: “There has been no change to charging procedures and guidelines through the 2023 season – since the review into procedures for dealing with On-Field Misconduct carried out in consultation with clubs through 2022.

“In terms of charging grades such as reckless and careless, there has been no change since a guidance note in 2021.”

When asked about King’s comments on Watkins’ ban, the spokesperson added: “A player’s previous record is relevant with regards to the punishment for each grade of offence – Kallum Watkins has been suspended for one match for this offence because it is the second time this season he has been found guilty of an offence (he was fined for the first), and the fourth in the last two years.

“More generally, and as outlined on numerous occasions to clubs, players and senior executives, the sport has a duty to protect players from illegal contact with the head. It is incumbent on all in the sport to recognise that.”

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