Mailbox: Head says St Helens should be in Challenge Cup semi-finals

Anthony Gelling (3) of Warrington Wolves in action during the game

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Dear Sir or Madam,

A rule of rugby league states (source):


Heading the ball 4. It is illegal to head the ball in a forward direction.”

In the Challenge Cup quarter-final game on Saturday, September 19th, 2020, a ‘try’ that was awarded to Warrington Wolves involved the ball moving forwards from the head of a Warrington Wolves player. The video referee stated that the ball had come off the player’s head. The game was televised by the BBC. Its commentators variously stated that the ball was “a header” and that the ball had “moved forward.” In a post-game interview, the interviewer commented on the player’s “heading” the ball. The player stated that it had been practised.

The BBC states (in their match report) that the scorer of the ‘try’ took advantage of a “unique headed ‘assist’. It can well be regarded as “unique,” for players do not head the ball in the sport of rugby league. as a rule. It is reasonable to assume that if players were of the opinion that a head’s moving a ball forwards was permissible, they would be likely to head the ball occasionally or even frequently, to add variety and unpredictability to their tactics. Association football is a sport in which, by principle, feet and heads (but not hands, except by goalkeepers) are used to propel the ball. Rugby evolved from association football. It differs from it essentially in that it is a sport in which hands and feet, but not heads, are used to propel the ball.

The game was a Challenge Cup quarter-final. in which this incident was particularly significant. The final score, including the four points awarded for the ‘try’, was Warrington Wolves 20 St. Helens 18. The score without the ‘try’ would and should be, at least, Warrington Wolves 16 St. Helens 18. Therefore, St. Helens should play in a Challenge Cup semi-final.

Yours faithfully,

John McCormick

Editor’s comment: Far be it from me to try and decipher the laws of the game, the bottom line is this game is in the books and nothing can be done to change it. The video above shows how the touch judge stopped once the header had occurred, though the referee did award the try on the field and it was given. There are a number of instances in the laws that would appear to be open to interpretation, especially around deliberate acts (such as when the ball hits a defender off an attacking kick, whether that’s deemed to be played at or not). Regardless of what Gelling said post-match, it’s extremely unlikely that this play was a deliberate one, and just a lucky or fortunate act that helped propel the Wolves to Wembley.

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  1. I don’t wish to be rude to the St Helens fan , but I remember a saints player deliberately heading a ball forwards regather and scoring a try . Think it could of been john Harrison against Sheffield eagles novenber 1990 you were happy to take the points then , what’s good for goose is good for the gander. So you shouldn’t be the semis you got beat the same way as you scored

    • At that time it was deemed legal to head a ball forward in fact before the game Mike Mccelland asked the referee would it be legal to head the ball forward, at the time it was legal, with John Harrison being 6ft 8 in that was ploy to score.
      The following weeks the rule was changed to prevent the practice being continued.

    • Yes Alex your memory serves you well, however the rules were changed by directive from the then controller of referee’s to all officials that in future that action should be given as a knock on, so saints should be in the semis

  2. Warrington scored a try that was deemed a forward pass earlier in the game that was chalked off . Saint’s beaten by the better team on the day

  3. The incident involving John Harrison is different as he gathered in his own headed through ball. The ball from gelling head went forward and the person gathering it for the try was in an accident forward position, therefore the try should have been chalked off. Never the less Warrington were better than us simple as that.

  4. Gelling did not head the ball. The ball hit his head, total accident, total fluke. Thus this is the same as when a player kicks the ball onto an opponent’s leg, the opponent will not be penalised because he did not attempt to kick the ball, it simply bounced off his body.

  5. I was at that game involving SHEFFIELD EAGLES where player HEADED ball over line. I seem to remember, some time afterwards, R F L, Declared this move ILLEGAL!,! Have rules changed now, or,, does it NOT APPLY to S L teams?

  6. The referee should have blown up, sadly not literally, for a knock on, that was the rule change made after the tactic used years ago and mentioned by others.

    Yes it’s accidental, but it’s still a knock on.

    But the referee let it go, the video referee let it go. Seems only those of us with long memories remember, perhaps it was removed from the rule book without telling anyone?

    Wouldn’t the simpler decision been to have blown for the knock on, err on the side of caution?

  7. Dear mr Milliee , John Harrison headed the ball , George Mann scored the try , but that’s all water under bridge now , along with Saturdays header , stay safe and stay well alex

  8. This shows why some people are fans and some are referees.

    Completely different incidents to show something wasn’t right, correct or outside the rules.

    The ball was deflected, the ball played the man, there was no intention to break the rules or any deception or even to bend them slightly ( which is more than can be said of what happens around the ruck … coaches!).

    Keep well, stay safe everyone

  9. ha ha. Saints fan are the most annoying fans in Rugby. They are bad losers and even worse winners. Not one ounce of grace or dignity between them.

    I’m glad we won it in this manner. Happy days.

  10. I remember when heading the ball was declared illegal, whether accidental or otherwise, but it seems the authorities were lax writing it into the rulebook. What is more laughable is Salford were awarded a try when a player knocked the ball forward with his right hand and touched down with left hand. To claim he recaught the ball with his left hand was a joke.

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