Rugby league’s most prominent players, coaches and administrators have united in a chorus of criticism of the NRL over the handling of the shoulder charge debacle.
Veteran players Johnathan Thurston and Michael Ennis, NSW mentor Laurie Daley and Penrith supremo Phil Gould all slammed the game’s governing body on Wednesday as confusion reigned over the shoulder charge.
Canberra fullback Jack Wighton will be free to play Cronulla in Saturday’s qualifying final after being cleared of a grade-two shoulder charge count at the judiciary.
Faced with a four-week ban, Wighton challenged the match review committee’s (MRC) charge, with the judiciary taking just five minutes to exonerate him.
The MRC was roundly condemned for charging Wighton for his hit on the Wests Tigers’ Joel Edwards yet clearing Sharks hooker Ennis for what appeared to be a similar incident.
The NRL went to the trouble of releasing a statement outlining why the Raiders’ No.1 had been charged but Ennis was let off for his challenge on Melbourne’s Cheyse Blair.
NRL MRC coordinator Michael Buettner argued there was a “clear difference” and that Ennis had not tucked his arm into his side as he braced for contact while Wighton had.
Ennis said the MRC and judiciary were no longer on the same page and the two entities needed to merge so there was consensus.
“The only problem is (the MRC) see what they’re looking for and they charge or don’t charge and then it goes to another set of eyes when it comes to the judiciary,” Ennis said.
“And that’s the real issue – that’s a problem the NRL need to address.
“For starters, the guys that are making the call on the charges maybe need to be involved in the judiciary process as well.”
Cowboys, Queensland and Australian playmaker Thurston said the water had become so muddied, he no longer knew what constituted a shoulder charge.
“Can you? No,” Thurston said when asked to explain what a shoulder charge was.
“It’s a big issue in our game, obviously. Everyone’s a little bit confused at the moment – I’m confused. I can’t say too much on it because I don’t know what the rules are.”
NSW coach Laurie Daley said confidence in the match review committee and judiciary had evaporated and he called for an overhaul of the process.
“No one’s got any confidence in it and I think a lot of people are confused about what constitutes dangerous contact, what constitutes a shoulder charge,” Daley told News Corp Australia.
“There’s a lot of things a lot of people are disappointed in. There’s no faith there and I think it needs a overhaul.
“They need to get the powers-that-be into the room at the end of the year and go through it and review it and make some massive changes.”
Penrith general manager and Nine Network commentator Phil Gould said the episode had “embarrassed the code”.
“The people that are doing this have absolutely no idea what they’re doing,” Gould told Sky Sports Radio’s Big Sports Breakfast.
“I fear for the future of the game with the people that we have in charge at the moment, honestly.”