Australian captain Cameron Smith has delivered a stinging rebuke to critics of the NRL’s crackdown on the shoulder charge, telling players to “pull their head in”.
Legendary halfback Andrew Johns on Monday night poured fuel on the fire when he said the game’s governing body was “lost” and their efforts to rub out the technique had been an “absolute debacle”.
South Sydney stars Issac Luke and Luke Keary and Sydney Roosters’ representative back-rower Aidan Guerra were among six players cited for shoulder charges over the weekend’s fixtures.
And while some have lambasted the NRL after nine players were charged in the fortnight since they announced their intention to stamp it out, Smith delivered a sobering reminder of what was at risk.
In June, Queensland Cup player James Ackerman was killed after being hit with a shoulder charge while playing for the Sunshine Coast.
The father of two’s death had a deep impact at the Storm, who share a feeder arrangement with the Sunshine Coast, and many Melbourne squad members knew Ackerman.
While Smith did not comment on any of the six charges over the weekend, he said the shoulder charge needed to be eradicated from the game.
“I think the NRL are making a stance on tackles that can be quite dangerous,” Smith said.
“I know there’s a lot of debate about the shoulder charge and whether it is dangerous or whether it’s not. To me it’s pretty clear cut.
“A footballer lost his life as a direct result of a shoulder charge. So if there’s six incidents in those six charges over the weekend, players have got to get it through their heads that they can’t put that tackle on. Simple as that.”
Johns slammed the NRL Match Review Committee for the the recent crackdown, particularly the charge handed to Manly winger Jorge Taufua for his hit on Canberra fullback Jack Wighton.
The former Newcastle, NSW and Australian No.7 said he supported the eradication of the “traditional” shoulder charge but argued Taufua and Wighton were simply bracing to protect themselves while attacking a loose ball.
“We’re lost. It’s turned into an absolute debacle,” Johns said on Triple M radio on Monday night.
“That Jorge Taufua one on Jack Wighton, that wasn’t a shoulder charge, it was two blokes going for a 50-50 ball and Jack Wighton gets the ball and Jorge pulls out.
“If he doesn’t pull out and brace himself, do we need a player to lift his hands and expose his face and to break his own jaw on an opposition player, for us to go `hang on, something’s wrong here’.”