Rugby League Week #10 – Crime and Punishment

I apologise in advance. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record (vinyl is back in fashion, you know) this column once again contains the ‘C’ word: consistency.

When news broke last night that Rangi Chase had received a seven-game ban for his ‘dangerous throw’ on Huddersfield’s Brett Ferres during Salford’s 18-12 win there on Good Friday, the internet went into meltdown. To the extent that Barack Obama, pouring all his efforts into brokering a nuclear deal with Iran, would have been better served sending his diplomats to Eccles.

Not since Kim Kardashian displayed arse cheeks the size of Big Eorl’s chin has the World Wide Web come under such strain.  

For it doesn’t matter how often the RFL media department reminds us that the game’s judiciary panel is entirely independent, for most rugby league supporters the weekly disciplinary fandango is a mind-boggling exercise in what seems to be make-it-up-as-you-go sentencing that is about as comprehensible, constructive and popular as an ISIS trip to the Victoria and Albert.

Surprise, surprise, most of the objections to the length of Chase’s ban came from supporters in red, who virtually to a person invoked the ‘C’ word in our very first paragraph (that’s consistency, not Chase by the way), not entirely without reason it must be admitted.

The New Zealander, sorry, Englishman’s back-row team-mate Weller Hauraki also landed four games for a couple of offences, one in the same match and other for brawling with Wigan’s John Bateman on Easter Monday, who in his case received only a one game ban. It’s that sort of apparent injustice that does indeed give the disciplinary committee a bad reputation, fairly or not.

And yet while I can understand some of the Salford fans’ frustration – their season really has turned around most impressively in recent weeks and the loss of two key players, especially the gifted Rangi, will most likely hit them hard – the extent to which some sought to downplay as calculated an act of thuggery as has ever been seen on a rugby field did them no favours at all.

Leaving aside how the offence could have been classed as ‘a dangerous throw’ – avoidance of the dread term ‘cannonball tackle’ perhaps, an act of assault rightly banned in the NRL but not (yet) in Super League – the mere fact that Chase’s seven-game absence compares favourably with around 16 weeks for his badly-injured victim ought to give rational cause for thought.

The video, widely available online, makes for grisly viewing. Chase takes a calculated decision to nip in, fox-like, through a forest of limbs and, completely unnecessarily, attack the legs of an upright player already stopped in his tracks by two defenders. The twisted fall that ensues is a horrible sight, all the more uncomfortable to watch for its cynical nature.

In short, if you can sit through it and still think the perpetrator was dealt with too harshly then it’s probably time to visit Specsavers or maybe investigate whether you are, in fact, a raging psychopath. Thank goodness the club itself saw sense and decided against an appeal.

I should add that although Salford fans are in the firing line here, pointing out their tunnel vision in this instance ought not to be taken as a criticism aimed exclusively at their happily growing flock.

Though blameless on this occasion, it would be ludicrous to paint Brett Ferres as an angel. In terms of over-the-top physicality, he himself has lost the plot more often than Hollyoaks. And had the boot been on the other foot, I have not the slightest doubt that we would now be hearing the wailing of Huddersfield fans, while this week’s devils took up position on the moral high ground.

Because in professional sport – not just league – self-interest rules.

And yet the issue of a fairer and far more transparent disciplinary system does indeed require long overdue attention.

Rugby league is a brutal sport, revolving at least partly around aggression and intimidation. That’s why we like it and to deny that would be both deluded and hypocritical. This game of ours is about heroes, yes, but it is also about villains and very often they turn out to be one and the same person: battle-lines will be drawn, violent transgressions occur, civilised boundaries will be crossed.

Which is exactly why rugby league does indeed need consistency of punishment, guilt or innocence, in which the outcome of any misdemeanour should add greater weight to the charge, while simultaneously the absence of serious injury should not in any way be seen as a mitigating factor.

 

You had to feel sorry for all those coaches hanging around Red Hall on Wednesday evening, awaiting the outcome of some eight tribunal cases, another six players having submitted Early Guilty Pleas. I’m told that some of them were there so long they came out covered in cobwebs, like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. There was a bigger crowd than Wakefield drew against Catalan.

With that level of activity, it’s fair to wonder whether a) Red Hall needs revolving doors and b) Super League is fast becoming too dirty – a debate for another day, perhaps.

All the more reason though for a greater level of accountability when it comes to the judicial process. Opening the hearings up to journalists, as happens in the NRL, would be start.

But in these days when we seem happy to undermine our referees’ authority by first lifting them out of kindergarten and then sticking ridiculous cameras on their heads, isn’t it about time the RFL began to stream them live?

It wouldn’t stop those allegations of inconsistency, of course, nothing could. But as ‘stakeholders’ (yuk) in the game, the paying punter has a right to know just what exactly is going on and it would doubtless draw a bigger audience than The Super League Show and Boots N’ All combined.

Especially when it was ‘our man’ in the dock. 

 

Tone’s Tips: Victories for Hull, Warrington, Castleford, Leeds, St Helens and Wigan. Homesick Sam Tomkins to sign for Milton Keynes Wolves.

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