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Slow death of the greatest game is well under way


Steve Mascord

The Hollywood gladiator ... Russell Crowe.

The Hollywood gladiator ... Russell Crowe. Photo: Getty Images

The two biggest stories since last week's Discord have involved Russell Crowe and the shoulder charge. They seem completely unrelated.

That is because they are completely unrelated - but I'm going to build a tenuous link anyway. South Sydney owner Crowe, who wants to sell out of the club at the end of next year, is an actor and his best known film is still Gladiator, the story of a Roman warrior from an age when people regularly watched others being executed, eaten, burned and mauled as entertainment.

Recently I was in York, where I learned from a plaque that the location of the racecourse was determined by its proximity to the execution grounds. You could watch someone being hung, drawn and quartered (that is, dangled from a noose until dead, cut open and disemboweled) in the morning and then head to the nags in the afternoon.

It could have been sport's first double-header.

As a race, we have always had a disturbing ability to separate ourselves from the pain being inflicted before us in the name of entertainment. We still see things on the television news and don't flinch when if the same events were to play themselves out in front of us, we'd throw up.

But we are repulsed by the very idea right now of watching executions and Roman gladiators for entertainment. Bull fighting has been completely marginalised in the last 20 years, as an example.

We are horrified that rugby league used to have no replacements, and men would play on with terrible injuries (check out Malcolm Andrews' book Hard Men). We even look back two years and think of players ignoring concussion to stumble through matches as marginally less enlightened times.

At glacial speed, over thousands of years, our taste for finding entertainment in violence is dissipating. Unfortunately, our love or war indicates we will never find complete peace but the things we do for amusement are getting more peaceful and civilised - slowly.

Rugby league getting rid of the shoulder charge is just another step along this road. I'll miss it. You'll miss it. Maybe it will make a brief comeback, maybe the decision has come too soon, given the outcry.

However, given trends in American sports it is clear that the NRL would have left themselves open to class action law suits from anyone seriously hurt by a shoulder charge after doctors publicly called for their abolition. Legally, the commission had little option.

In another 200 years, I'm willing to wager that body contact sport will have all but died out. We'll look back on people breaking bones and getting knocked out to the cheers of thousands with the same sort of disdain that we look at ancient Romans.

Yes, they will be banning tackles next. Yes, it is the death of rugby league - a very slow death that started long ago with the introduction of replacements. It's evolution, baby.

Make the most of the next couple of centuries, OK?

Not so super state of affairs

Oh dear. Leeds sign Salford's Joel Moon after missing out on Willie Tonga.

People calling for a smaller Super League are missing the point. We already have one - they just play against other teams sometimes. It seems that no one will stay at Salford, Castleford, Wakefield and one or two others if a bigger club wants them.

It's a terrible state of affairs which hopefully the new owners of the Reds can help remedy but which the Rugby Football League needs to address urgently.

On another note, next season is being called the longest ever with Super League kicking off on February 1 and the World Cup final set down for November 30.

I've heard "longest ever", "best ever" and "worst ever" a lot in rugby league. We've been around since 1895. Can any historians out there confirm this to be the case? I guess it depends on how you define it - somewhere in the world, rugby league is on every weekend of the year.

Your say

Feedback time and plenty of responses from our rugby union-loving (or should I just call them sympathisers?) readers.

Grandmasterflash68 asked if Benji Marshall would be available for the Rio Olympics. He could play Japanese rugby union for a season and then do that, yes. You should be his manager!

Swampash, Steve79 is right. Extending the contract to take in a full 12 months is a proposal to overcome exactly what you say, that players can leave in November and come back in February.

Howie Synott, I have no interest in any other sport but rugby league. There are plenty of rugby union writers and fans (including those who responded to last week's column) who are willing to be aggressive and exclusionary about their sport. There don't seem to be many league people who have the same attitude. I see it as a little niche I can fill!

Bshmgr, rugby league is on the football fringes - which is why we need to pull up the drawbridge and man the parapet! Popeye, I am insecure. Rugby union is a much bigger, well-resourced and widely play sport. I am scared of them, no denying it. But because I am a league man, I know that NRL players representing the Wallabies would ruin our game elsewhere. People trying to start league in America, or Russia or the Pacific would give up, the Kiwis and England would have no one to play against. It would be armageddon for me and for them.

Greg Truman, I just don't think rugby union would loan players to rugby league, so why should the opposite be allowed to occur?

Tele12, you are right that in most parts of the world the rugby codes can help each other. But NRL players are our prime assets and ... see above.

El Seano, as another reader said, the off-season is there to rest and recuperate not earn a few yen. Norbert7 talked about players' behaviour. It's improved. Aussie Tom was right, David Gallop's Coke-Pepsi comment was in reference to the fact he doesn't watch AFL. I stand corrected.

BrisWayno, rugby league isn't even Pepsi, let alone Coke. It's, like, No Name Cola. Fergus is right, we are a tiny, obscure, parochial sport - which is why we must be vigilant and not give the other suckers an even break!

Here's the forum page.

21 comments so far

  • I do like your tenuious link, it is very tenuious to say the least. In sport we all like a great knockout in boxing, UFC is the flavour at present, why, because there are basically no rules at present back to the bare knuckle, timeless days of yester year boxing, however Rugby League is sacrosanct to the true followers, ever wanting to stay in a world that has moved on from the all glory days of gladiators. The medical professionals are the ones leading the charge on banning the shoulder charge, do you really want to see your son/grandchild/nephew/ friend being hospitalised by what ultimately is a bully boys tactic at the very least. It lacks skill and is only effective if you're big and weighty, the game is better off showcasing the more relevent skill sets.
    As far as those who are worried about Union, don't worry it already is a bigger game than league will ever be, Australia has won a gold medal in Union , been world champions twice and is currently 3rd best in world, a world comprising 100 rugby playing nations, a game that saw league start from it and believe it or not NFL. So don't worry, be thankfull to Union for Daily Messenger, Wally Lewis, Michael Oconnor, Ricky Stewart etc.Boxing has been cleaned up, UFC will eventually, so league should be greatful to be among these international sports,I have never seen Darren Lockyer or Peter Stirling doing a shoulder charge.So if you all want to keep the gladiator dream alive watch UFC or some other mind maudling sport , I would sooner have my grandchildrens brains undamaged by some 130kilo train.

    Date and time
    November 22, 2012, 1:30PM
    • The shoulder charge was banned in Union long ago and I would suggest it is still a respectably physical contact sport! The love of "The Biff" and tackles that lead to temporary unconciousness or serious injury says something not very nice about the League audience.

      No 2 (Hooker)
      Date and time
      November 22, 2012, 3:39PM
    • Taffy you're right no one is worried about Union in Australia. It's now a distant fourth behind AFL, NRL and the A-League. League has got over 30 playing nations and for a sport which at an International level was almost dead 10 years ago that is amazing sustainability and growth. Do yourself a favor and check out the Rugby League European Foundation. The game is growing all the time.

      Love the UFC by the way!

      Date and time
      November 22, 2012, 4:07PM
    • Even when the UFC first started there were rules. The no rules rubbish was pushed by people with agendas that had not even seen the sport. There are a myriad of rules and regulations in the UFC, so I don't really know what you are on about.

      Date and time
      November 23, 2012, 12:17PM
    • Take a look at some of the footage in slow motion. Some of those "Shoulder charges" are actually fore arm smashes that would make many wrestlers envious..

      Date and time
      November 25, 2012, 8:43AM
  • the problem with a shoulder charge is that it can't be mastered, there are too many variables if more than 1 defender is involved..however, if you allow 1 on 1 shoulder charges, its a different my opinion, tackles on players 'just' after they've released the ball are worse! how many times have you seen a centre offload to his winger to score only to see the centre laying in a heap on the ground because he got hit in a relaxed state? its easy for spectators to say leagues gone soft, but, its something that was coming..our war mongering gene is slowly fading..well kinda?

    Date and time
    November 22, 2012, 2:57PM
    • No way. Other sports have become massively more dangerous.
      Mick Fanning surfing in Tahiti, Chad Reed motorcross, Sam Hill Mtb downhill all Austalian all multiple world Champions, all representing the new era of sports where the limits and danger increase massively year after year.
      Compare sports and even with shoulder charges Rugby is soft. Thank god for the internet so I can enjoy these non main stream sports which progress while good ol bristish bulldogs becomes more and more boring.
      The true gladiators are'nt in that crusty old game.

      Date and time
      November 22, 2012, 5:26PM
      • You would lose your money.

        The more things change, the more people stay the same - we love to witness brutality as long as it is not to us.

        Who would have thought 20 years ago the brutality of UFC would be so popular, and MMA training the benchmark for fitness?

        Date and time
        November 22, 2012, 5:52PM
        • “In another 200 years, I'm willing to wager that body contact sport will have all but died out.”
          I’m not too sure we humans will be walking around in 200 years time. That in itself is a dangerous pursuit. We may all be living in some suspended animation kind of way or whatever the safest option of the time will be. Safety first, that is our evolution, quality of life – immaterial.

          “Yes, they will be banning tackles next. Yes, it is the death of rugby league - a very slow death that started long ago with the introduction of replacements. It's evolution, baby. “
          First off, if this really was about player welfare then the whole act of tackling would be banned and not just one aspect of it. More Doctors will tell you that the act of tackling, in general, will lead to significantly more harm than the few Doctors have raised regarding the shoulder charge. Therefore, this whole player welfare angle is moot. You can get amount of Doctors or any amount of people or any amount of information to fit whatever end goal someone has in mind. The real issue is legal based and given that sports like Boxing, and the like, can still soldier on, as is, then League only needs to adopt their legal practices to cover themselves.

          Finally, I didn’t realize that the interchange rule was all about player welfare. Back in the day, I remember how boring the last 10 – 15 minutes of most matches were because everybody was just too fatigued to do anything spectacular. It was a slow, boring grind to the end. We seem to have lost one of the key reasons why we have the interchange/replacements.

          A O
          Date and time
          November 23, 2012, 6:16AM
          • So the dumb players had four months to submit their views on the shoulder charge and only one bothered and another made a phone call. Ok bring back the shoulder charge but if contact is made to the neck or head make it an automatic send off and have it referred to the judiciary no grading, no early guilty plea. There will still be some dumb arse players who will attempt it but the coaches will soon figure out they can't be without a player.

            Tuross Head NSW
            Date and time
            November 23, 2012, 6:38AM

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