Great rips ‘crazy’ reaction to ‘pure accident’

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 10:10pm (AEST) as the panel looks back at round 19!

What a weekend, and it’s fair to say the fallout from round 19 will continue for a while, particularly around the two most controversial issues: Dale Finucane’s dangerous contact charge, and the fiasco in Townsville that saw the Cowboys snatch victory off the Tigers.

Let me start with Finucane. I can’t believe he’s been charged, let alone a grade three charge that could see him miss 2-3 weeks.

It’s crazy and it’s got me baffled. To break it down simply, he’s been charged for what the NRL says is an unacceptable risk of injury to his opponent.

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I don’t see how he did that, because in my view it was a pure accident.

What’s also at issue here is the differing opinions of the match officials, both on-field and in the Bunker, and the match review committee (MRC).

There was a two minute delay in the play, which gave the Bunker ample time to review the contact. But the on-field officials, headed up by referee Ashley Klein, and the Bunker, both gave it the all-clear.

We know how tough the officials are on high contact, anything that’s even remotely dangerous is penalized. And yet in this instance Finucane was not penalised.

Yet the following day, it’s like the MRC has come up with a totally different interpretation of the rules.

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It’s as though they’ve decided that it’s a bad look for the game, so Dale Finucane needs to be charged. As far as I know, just because it’s a bad look doesn’t mean the player should be facing time on the sideline.

That’s not what the rules are about. What needs to be established is whether or not Dale Finucane behaved in a way that was likely to cause injury to Stephen Crichton. The answer to that is, of course not. It was a pure accident.

It opens a huge can of worms. Are we going to penalize every accidental head clash for the rest of the season? And then suspend the player for 2-3 weeks? If we’ve reached that stage we won’t have many players left by the end of the season.

This is a high-speed contact sport. We’ve tried to sanitize the game so much in recent years, and some of those changes are sensible. We’ll never go back to players throwing punches. We’ll never have shoulder charges, and as soon as you get another player above the horizontal, that’s a penalty as well. I’ve got no issue with that.

But accidents happen in a game where you’re dealing with big strong men who are running at high speed towards each other. Occasionally things go wrong, and that’s exactly what happened at BlueBet Stadium. It went wrong. There was a head clash. The outcome of that should not be a grade three charge and 2-3 weeks out of the game.

I played against Dale Finucane in the later part of my career, and he’s absolutely not a dirty player. He’s played more than 200 games and I can barely remember him being charged, let alone suspended.

If you look at the footage, his arms are nowhere near Crichton’s head, it’s nothing more than an accidental head clash, meaning any charge is excessive. The fact he could miss 2-3 weeks defies belief.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the extent of the injury to Crichton is a factor in the severity of the charge. I was on the sideline for Radio 2GB, I wasn’t that far away when it happened. The end result wasn’t good, because he was on the ground with his ear basically split in two, and that’s not a good look.

But you can’t charge someone because it doesn’t look good. That’s not what the rules are about. If he did something that put Crichton at an unacceptable risk of being injured, then sure, he should be charged. But he didn’t. It was an accident.

The game is all about heavy collisions. That doesn’t mean you charge every player when one of those collisions goes wrong. It’s not the way the game should be played.

From the same match we have Viliame Kikau facing a fine for a shoulder charge, an action which is specifically against the rules.

Now, I’ve seen far worse shoulder charges than the one Kikau came up with, to be honest I wasn’t even initially sure that’s what it was. To me it wasn’t a major drama.

But when you’ve got blokes being fined for something that’s against the rules, and others potentially being suspended for an accident, it’s easy to see why everyone is shaking their heads.

Tigers robbed in Townsville

The other incident that understandably has fans up in arms is the final play of the match between North Queensland and the Wests Tigers.

The biggest problem with that play was the fact the Cowboys simply didn’t get the kickoff right – it was far too deep.

But for me, the Wests Tigers players had eyes for nothing other than the ball.

Escorts are when players change their line intentionally to block an opposition player from making a fair play at the ball. A lot of times they know where the runner is, they look over their shoulder and they change their line, it’s quite obvious.

In this instance, I don’t think the Tigers players were looking at the Cowboys chasers, because realistically they were no chance of getting to the ball, because the kickoff was so deep.

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For the bunker to think that was a penalty blows me away. The Tigers players were looking at the ball the entire time, which for me is the biggest indicator that it wasn’t an escort.

You’re allowed to run towards the ball, which is what they were doing.

I know the NRL has said the decision to allow the Cowboys to challenge the call was correct, but I’m still not convinced about that, and from what I’m reading, there’s plenty of others in the same boat.

But regardless of the rights or wrongs of the decision to allow the Cowboys to challenge, I don’t think it was deserving of a penalty.

It’s one of the reasons people are so frustrated with the game. You can understand a referee making a mistake when it’s a split-second call on the field, but when the Bunker has time to review the play from any number of angles, you really expect them to come up with the right call. We’re spending all this money to get rid of the howler, and when something like this happens people just shake their heads.

I’ve also seen people saying Kyle Feldt took a dive, but regardless of whether he did or not, he did what he had to do. There’s not a player in the competition who wouldn’t have done what he did. I’ve got zero issues with the Cowboys players, I would have done exactly what Chad Townsend did in trying to challenge. The issue is around the officiating and the decision they came up with.

What unfolded has huge ramifications on the competition. The Tigers obviously haven’t had a win for a while, so a win would have been a massive boost to their spirits, a win up in North Queensland against the team running second would have been enormous for them. At the other end of the table, it might be the difference at the end of the season between the Cowboys finishing in the top four or slipping to fifth or sixth.

The NRL might come out and say it shouldn’t have been a penalty, but that’s not going to change anything. As a player, you’re dirty for a while, but there’s nothing you can do. These guys are professionals, they played the game since they were kids, you accept that mistakes happen sometimes and you’ve got to get on with it and look to next week.

You can’t dwell on it, that’s not going to change anything.

I have seen people calling for the NRL to change the result, even an on-line petition for people to sign, but you can’t open that can of worms.

What’s happened has happened. Mistakes happen all the time in professional sport, but changing results after full time would be an absolute nightmare.

If you’re a Tigers fan what happened in Townsville is really hard to accept, but you’ve got to cop it unfortunately.

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