<em>Illustration: michaelmucci.com</em>

Illustration: michaelmucci.com

CANTERBURY chairman George Peponis is adamant the NRL has a greater priority than outlawing the shoulder charge to safeguard its players from unnecessary punishment - the former Test skipper believes the four-man tackle is an even greater blight on the sport.

Peponis, a medical practitioner in the inner west who also captained the 1980 premiership-winning Bulldogs, admitted he held mixed views about the league's stance on shoulder charges. However, he was relentless in his condemnation of the gang tackle.

''I think there were other aspects of the game that should've taken a precedence over the shoulder charge,'' he said. ''My pet hate is the third and fourth player coming in to a tackle late while two other defenders are holding the ball carrier up and they hit him in the back.

''That to me is a blight on the game. It's something that never used to happen - you have two players holding the player up and he gets hit in the back. It is dangerous, and it is something that should be outlawed before the shoulder charge or anything else for that matter.''

The NRL's decision to ban the shoulder charge angered players, and supporters, alike with social media going into meltdown when the ruling was announced early in the week. While NRL officials have agreed to meet the Rugby League Professionals Association to discuss the change, it appears unlikely it will reverse the call.

The players also want the league to quickly clarify what would constitute a shoulder charge in the new era, saying they need to know if a front-on tackle in which the shoulder connects with the ball carrier first, was deemed dangerous.

Peponis said he could see both sides of the shoulder charge issue and said safety over the spectacular was a fine line for the code's administrators. ''There is a lot of debate about it and I can see the pros and cons on both sides,'' he said. ''If I put my medical hat on, I'd say it was a good idea but as an ex-footballer there is nothing more exciting than seeing a good, old-fashioned shoulder charge - as long as it doesn't go wrong. It's something that has very little room for error, it can be dangerous … a shoulder charge to the face or head, it can do terrible damage … and I can appreciate the NRL's view. But when I take off my medical cap and speak as an ex-footballer, and a keen fan, it is something exciting to watch.''

The ban on shoulder charges will have big ramifications for Roosters recruit Sonny Bill Williams, who made a name for himself as an expert of the brutal art during his stint with the Bulldogs which ended abruptly in 2008.

Williams was sin-binned during last year's Rugby World Cup semi-final against the Wallabies for a shoulder charge on Australian opponent Quade Cooper.

Another player who will be put out by the rule change is Warriors forward Ben Matulino.

His shoulder charges had the ability to create to swing a game's ebb and flow.

In 2012, only 71 (less than two per NRL round) of the 142,355 tackles made during the season were deemed ''shoulder charges'' while only 17 per cent of those resulted in contact with the head of the player with the ball.

Many in the game, including Warriors team doctor Dr John Mayhew, have applauded the move. It has been banned domestically in New Zealand for years. There has, however, been widespread dismay - even anger - from the NRL's player ranks.

What does Matulino make of it all? Like a prize gunslinger without his trusty pistols, the biggest, most eye-catching, weapon in the Kiwi prop's arsenal has now been removed. The humble 23-year-old isn't one to get all bitter and twisted, but he's certainly ''angry'', make no mistake.

''It was a big part of my game, and pretty much the only thing I could bring to the team,'' he said.

''It's my one trick gone. I don't chuck the cut-out balls, or do the big steps. But I've just got to adapt to the game, and do what Matty [coach Matthew Elliott] tells me to do.''

Teammate Manu Vatuvei is more vocal. The giant winger reckons the NRL should come down harder on those few bad eggs who make the worst tackles; that heavy suspensions for the worst tackles should be in place instead of removing what the shoulder charge brings to league.

''Ben Matulino - he's the type of person that can control that. He's got an awesome technique,'' he said.

After reviewing footage of Matulino's tackling style, Elliott believes his star prop could be fine. ''Someone asked me about Ben the other day, so I went and looked at some of his tackles [on video],'' the former Raiders and Panthers boss said. ''He's not actually shoulder charging - he's tackling where he hits with his shoulder.''