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Opinion: Shoulder ban to league's detriment?

Wednesday 21 Nov 2012 11:07a.m.

Opinion: Shoulder ban hurting league?

Opinion by Sam Ackerman

If you're a league fan, you love the shoulder charge. It's an instrumental part of the game's folklore, it turns players into legends and puts bums on seats.

Sonny Bill Williams may be known as an international code hopper these days but it was his lethal shoulder than first put him on his trajectory to stardom.

David Kidwell had a sensational career but is best known for letting his shoulder do the talking and put down big Willie Mason at Mt Smart.

The list of memorable moments from the spectacular looking tackle goes on and on.

The decision from the NRL's independent commission to recommend outlawing shoulder charges across all competitions has been met with plenty of fire and brimstone from fans, commentators, former and current players alike.

The bottom line is officials couldn't ignore the medical advice. All 16 NRL doctors condemned the practice and called for it to be rubbed out of the game.

It's been deemed an unacceptable injury risk, and in a time where concussion among athletes is under the spotlight, this can be looked at as enlightened step.

But when they talk about unacceptable risk, they're also talking about the legal aspect.

It's only a matter of time before someone gets badly hurt in a mistimed shoulder charge and it ends up in the courts.

Take what happened with Jarrod McCracken when he took legal action for a spear tackle.

If a shoulder charge that caused serious injury went before a judge or jury, the medical evidence that the ARLC would have overlooked would have left them wide open for punishment.

That's seen as the common sense view. But every sport comes with its risks.

Can you imagine Formula One drivers being given a speed limit because there's fear someone could get hurt in a crash at the current speeds?

Or cliff divers being told the platforms had to be lowered? X-Games athletes told to make their tricks less death-defying?

Every sport comes with its risks. Anyone entering into professional rugby league does so willingly and with the knowledge that an accidental collision or misjudged tackle could happen.

The findings of the report in shoulder charges showed they made up 0.05 per cent of tackles made in this years NRL – 17 per cent of which made contact with the head. That's not an epidemic.

But player safety deserves to be high on the agenda. Even if they don't want protection, is it up to officials to make things as safe as possible?

The move's already been banned in all New Zealand domestic competitions, and NZRL officials are glowing in their praise of the positive impact it's had on player well-being.

Rugby League will survive without the shoulder charge. But I don't mind saying, I'll miss that 0.05% of the game.

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