Simon Dwyer shoulder charges Jared Waerea-Hargreaves during 2010 final series.
CALLS to bring back Chumbawamba's Tubthumping – "I get knocked down, but I get up again" – as the NRL's anthem have been resisted by the ARL Commission.
Instead, Roberta Flack will be appear at the grand final singing Killing Me Softly.
The truth is out. The NRL has gone soft. There will be more physical games of Twister at six-year-old birthday parties than you will see next season. The medical room at the World Chess Championships will contain more casualties than at Shark Park.
Greg Inglis's hit on Dean Young which knocked out the Dragons forward.. The Rabbitohs fullback was banned for three matches. Photo: Screen grab from FoxSports
This we know because of the hysterical reaction to the ARL Commission's decision to ban the shoulder charge – a backlash that sent Sir Reginald Twitter's patented apparatus into meltdown.
"Banning the shoulder. Who's keen to play badminton?" tweeted Issac Luke.
"They should ban the ball from rugby league! And play with a fluffy teddy bear," suggested Josh Cordoba.
Frank Pritchard's high tackle on David Simmons in round one. Photo: Screen grab from FoxSports
Both Luke and Cordoba suffered career-threatening calluses on their Twitter fingers after making those observations. Or so you would think, if the image NRL players are portraying of themselves – and their game – is to be believed. Softer than Anna Kournikova's second serve.
And here we were thinking, from outside the fence, that the increased speed of the game, and the size of the athletes, had created a contest every bit as ferocious – and much cleaner – than in the "good old days". That the introduction of the interchange, the neutering of the scrum and quicker play-the-ball resulted in a frenzied game in which the sheer speed of the collisions intensified the risk.
We had – if you believe the players now – deluded ourselves that the size of the modern combatants, with bodies chiselled in the gymnasium rather than the front bar, had made the contemporary rugby league field a place for latter-day gladiators. That the influx of Polynesian players, with their size, speed and agility, had further increased the pace, the physicality and the inherent danger.
Once, we had thought two exhausted behemoths standing toe-to-toe on a muddy field trading punches in a highlights reel from the 1970s was symbolic of a "real man's game". But, on second thought, we would rather have taken our chances against these blokes than try to hold the line against the muscular cannonballs who now prowl the field.
Yet, the players are telling us, the removal of the shoulder charge – something the statistics show is a rare and relatively incidental part of the game – means the NRL will be about as brutal as a slumber party pillow fight. The fact Greg Inglis will no longer be able to turn his lethal weapon of a body, and cast Dean Young in the title role of Sleeping Beauty, supposedly means the game has lost its machismo.
Alternatively, perhaps the players have already suffered so many concussions from shoulder charges that they are not thinking straight. That their eagerness to inflict such punishment is – like the brain injuries that are a blight on football codes world-wide – blurring their vision.
I have some sympathy for the view that only the head-high charges be illegal. Automatic sin-binning and stiff judiciary penalties might make players think twice before turning their shoulders into baseball bats. But, faced with the disturbing images of American NFL players who suffer higher rates of brain injury and suicide because of head-high shots, you cannot blame those who have to deal with the carnage – the club doctors and surgeons – for erring on the side of caution.
The objection of the coaches is predictable. Offering a coach a rule change is like offering an Eskimo a sauna. In this case, the discomfort is created by having to drill players to adapt to changed circumstances which, with three months before the first game, should not prove too great a challenge.
The fans? Yes, the shoulder charge can be spectacular. So can a car crash. But you only have to watch any State of Origin game from the past five years to realise this ban will not diminish the game's incredible blend of athleticism, brutality and courage. On the evolutionary scale, it is a move from Neanderthal to Mediaeval.
Certainly, the players are entitled to their say. They are not only the ones who inflict the shoulder charge, but also suffer the damage. But next season, when ex-track rider Billy Slater is standing under a bomb with all sorts of mayhem reigning down upon him, I'll be checking my Twitter feed to see how many think the game has gone soft.