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Thurston charge illustrates flaws of current system

Monday brought us some major issues in rugby league, but the biggest talking point was most certainly the contrary conduct charge slapped on Cowboys, Queensland and Australian halfback Johnathan Thurston. To put it simply, the fact that Thurston could miss any football, let alone an Origin decider, for the incident in question is ridiculous.

I’m a NSW fan, and there is nothing more I would like to see than Thurston unavailable for the decider. He is one of the best players in the world, and would definitely have some impact on the result in Game Three. But even I agree that the grade two contrary conduct charge which Thurston received for his contact with referee Matt Cecchin is ridiculous, and I think that the judiciary panel has no choice but to let him off, and allow him to play for the Cowboys this weekend and then Queensland in Origin three.

Looking at the reputation of Thurston, I’ve seen and heard things about him that frame him as an unlikable person, both on and off the field. He has an undoubted reputation as a whinger, and will do almost anything to win, within or outside the rules. By the same token, I’ve seen and heard a similar amount of things that go completely against that reputation. When I was ball-boy at the Tigers, we had to do the tees for the travelling Cowboys side, while many people may see it as a very trivial thing, the fact that he would hand a tee back to us and thank us every time it was brought to him, something which I still see him do every time he is playing now, gives the impression that he isn’t as bad as people think.

But moving back to the issue, there has been vision of the only other person charged with this offence so far this season following the change of rule (which is an even bigger joke) to put the responsibility solely on the player to get out of the way of the official. Now in an environment with two referees trying to get the best possible position to make the decision, and the players trying to do their jobs as well, collisions are inevitable. I also think that in most cases it is quite obvious when there is intent to make contact, such as the charge already laid against Raiders half Josh McCrone, where he clearly pushed referee Steve Lyons out of the way, albeit in a genuine attempt to prevent a try. I think whoever has changed and approved this rule has clearly never played the game, or it would seem any sport at all, as it is an inevitability in most high level competitive sports that unintentional  contact with officials will happen.However, there is some overhaul needed in realtion to mutual respect shown between refs and players. Players obviously need to show refs respect, and by the same token, referees need to understand their place and respect the players to a degree. The fact that the referee in question this time, Matt Cecchin only a few weeks ago touched a player (not in any violent or overly physical manner), an act which sees the harshest of penalties if roles are reversed, is completely ridiculous. For that reason alone, Thurston should not be suspended.

In a larger sense though, I think that this shows some flaws in the charge system at the moment, particularly when you look at the other charges laid this week, and the consequences of these charges. This is views through unquestionable black and gold eyes, but how in the world does the two incidents involving Sika Manu not receive any suspension when the Thurston charge is worth two matches. The first of the Manu incidents was dismissed by on-field referees as the captain whinging (another issue with referees and respect, but we’ll leave that), where Tigers second rower Gareth Ellis was left on the ground, writhing in pain after being kneed in the calf as he went to ground by Manu. Such an action is extremely dangerous, and another tactic the Storm use (in fairness it is within the rules, but that is another argument) to slow down the play-the-ball, something that they do very well and has attained much success, but by the same token creating extremely boring games of football. I myself am not a fan of it, but unfortunately under the current rule interpretations it works.

The second incident was in the second half, where Manu performed an appropriately named ‘crusher’ tackle on Tigers fullback Wade McKinnon. It was clear to all the players on the field, but also the crowd that this was the case, yet it did take some time for the referees on field to penalise the incident. This comes down to the referees hesitance to over penalise the Storm for wrestling tactics fearing major criticism. But this should not be the case, and these tactics should be wiped out from the game by penalising on field, and suspending after the game. In this case, Manu was not even charged for an action which could well have, intentionally I must say, broken the neck of a player. This to me is an amazing decision, particularly when administrators are so worried about player welfare.

If the NRL were more worried about player welfare than nit-picking penalties and useless on-field incidents, then we may make some progress in this game. But until this happens, then the frustration which has come since yesterday morning’s charges were announced will continue to fester amongst the heart of the game, the fans.

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