Why this call was so confronting for NRL fans

NRL great PAUL GALLEN will appear on Nine’s 100% FOOTY every Monday night of the NRL season, debating rugby league’s hottest topics alongside Phil Gould and James Bracey. Tune in tonight at 10:30pm (AEDT) following a bumper round eight!

Debate over Karl Lawton’s send-off dominated the headlines this week, but it has raised one big question for me, and it’s not whether or not he should have been sent from the field.

What we need to discuss is how we want our game to look in the future. What do we want to be watching when we tune into the NRL in 2030 or 2035?

We’re talking about a contact sport where you’ve got blocks weighing 95-110kgs running flat out at each other. Just about every tackle has the potential to go wrong because the margin for error is so small. That margin might just be a fraction of a second, or a few centimeters here or there.

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On Nine’s coverage Cameron Smith said he thought it wasn’t a send-off, and Johnathan Thurston asked him if that wasn’t a send-off, then what is? That may be one of the smarter questions JT has ever come up with, because we need to think about how we want the game to evolve.

When I saw it live I thought Lawton was in trouble and could be sent-off, but then when I saw the replay, Cameron Murray landed on the back of his shoulder. It looked ugly, and there’s no doubt it was, but after seeing the replays I thought the send-off was pretty harsh.

Slater says with hindsight, dangerous tackle needed to be punished

I know the game has changed, and I’m not trying to say this was a good tackle. It wasn’t. He was a bad tackle, and he deserves to be punished, but the send-off was harsh.

I know a lot of people say it was a send-off every day of the week, but I thought it looked worse than what it was.

These days when it gets down to 12 against 13 it’s near impossible for a team to win the game, so for a player to be sent from the field it has to be such a clear-cut decision that there’s no room for argument. In this case we’ve got pundits on both sides of the fence, which tells me it wasn’t a clear-cut call.

My question to JT is this – do we stop altogether lifting? Do we stop three and four man tackles? You watch the Panthers, they literally get four men into the tackle and drive the ball carrier backwards. Do we stop that?

I don’t know what people want the game to look like.

The athletic ability of rugby league players these days, and how fit and strong they are, is ridiculous. It’s insane compared to 15-20 years ago. But that improvement has meant the margin for error gets smaller each year.

The difference between a great tackle and a terrible tackle might be a tenth of a second, or the fact the ball carrier fell 30 centimeters just before impact. It’s such a fine line, and when something like this happens we all need to take a step back, and think not just about what it means for this game, or this season, but how do we want our game to be played in the future .

Nobody wants to see a player seriously injured. But that’s not what happened in this situation, so it’s not fair to compare this tackle to others where players were injured.

In this case, the tackle went wrong, it deserved 10 minutes in the sin-bin, he deserved to be suspended, but the send-off was harsh.

Karl Lawton is now facing 4-5 weeks out of the game, which is about right. My initial thoughts were three weeks, so I can’t argue too much with an extra week.

A send-off is so rare these days that when it does happen it raises the question of whether or not teams should be allowed to replace the player who’s been sent-off, maybe after 10 or 20 minutes, but that’s not a change I would support.

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If a player from your team has done something that warrants a send-off, then fair enough, you have to wear it. That player has let his team down, and I’m comfortable with him not being replaced.

Everyone will have an opinion about each send-off, was it justified or not, but it’s the opinion of the referee that counts, and I’m OK leaving it in his, or her, hands.

Lay-off Brad Arthur

On the subject of everyone having an opinion, Brad Arthur copped it from the keyboard warriors for playing his son Jake at five-eighth and moving Dylan Brown to the centres.

Those critics have conveniently forgotten Parramatta’s injury crisis that has left them without a number of outside backs.

Not for a second would I believe Brad Arthur would pick anything other than his best combination each week.

But Parramatta’s loss to the Cowboys revealed something – the difference between the top two teams and the rest of the competition is just chalk and cheese. Penrith and Melbourne are that far in front it’s not funny.

That’s not to say teams can’t beat them, but if you do it will be a tight match and you’ve got to be at your absolute best, and hope that the Panthers or Storm are slightly off.

As far as the rest of the competition is concerned, just about anyone can beat anyone else.

The Cowboys for me are the most improved side in the competition. There wouldn’t have been too many tipping them to finish in the top eight, certainly I wasn’t.

They’re now third with five wins from eight matches, and they’ll start heavy favorites against Newcastle this week. To miss the finals from here would be an utter failure.

My only worry is their lack of experience, I thought they were a year or two away from being a force again. With youth and inexperience comes inconsistency, and that may bite them at some stage this year.

Barrett’s masterstroke

The fact that any team can cause an upset on any given day was evident with the Bulldogs beating the Roosters on Saturday night. Phil Gould’s involvement sent everyone into a frenzy last week, but Trent Barrett is smart enough to know that sometimes a move like that can work.

Trent has asked the great Gus to have a word to the boys, and it worked. Who knows, maybe Gus put them all on notice, and he’s about the only bloke in rugby league who can get away with that!

Some will see it as a weakness from Barrett, but I see it as a sign of maturity. It doesn’t matter who you are, you should never be too proud to ask for help. I remember during an Origin camp Craig Bellamy had a life coach with him, telling him what he’s doing right or wrong. Craig is one of the game’s most successful coaches and he’s not too proud to ask for help.

Given that, why would Barrett, who’s coached about 100 games, knock back any advice from Gus, who’s been around forever? It’s not a weakness. I worry about the players receiving mixed messages, but only those in the inner-circle at the club know if that’s a problem or not.

The Bulldogs were great against a Roosters side that is really lacking in consistency at the moment, they’ve got two competition points against a side many tipped to finish top-four. That’s all that matters.

Surprise finding no reflection on quality of hookers

There was a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on the weekend about the average salary of each position, with the revelation that only wingers earn less than hookers.

Clearly that survey was done after Cameron Smith retired, because his salary alone would feed a third-world nation!

On a serious note, that was something of a surprise, because there’s some young fine hookers around, such as Harry Grant, Brandon Smith and Blayke Brailey.

The spine of the team is so important, there’s no-one more important than your 1-6-7-9 combination.

I think if we did that survey again in five years you’d find a significant change, because it seems that since Cam and Robbie Farah retired, there’s been a generational change among the hookers.

The likes of Smith and Reed Mahoney have already signed new deals for 2023 to switch clubs and they’ll get a nice pay bump when they do, likewise Brailey’s next contract will be a lot more lucrative.

I think this result is more a factor of the age of the current crop of hookers, rather than any sign of a decline in quality amongst their ranks.

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