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The British are taking over the NRL

The Roar logo The Roar 7/04/2016 Tim Gore

Sam Burgess of the Rabbitohs leaves the field following their win during the round 1 NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs' at Allianz Stadium. © AAP Image/Paul Miller Sam Burgess of the Rabbitohs leaves the field following their win during the round 1 NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs' at Allianz Stadium. The number and standard of British players in the NRL right now is phenomenal. 

There have always been one or two British players kicking around the Australian rugby league. The early ‘70s and late ‘80s in particular saw lots of British players in the NSWRL at the same time.

Malcolm Reilly won the premiership with Manly in 1973, opposing his countrymen Tommy Bishop and Cliff Watson. Reilly returned to coach Newcastle to the 1997 ARL title, ironically over Manly.

Gary Schofield played for Balmain from 1985 to 1987 and was immediately followed by Ellery Hanley, who nearly got the Tigers to their first premiership in 20 years, before leaving to join Wests. Shaun Edwards played for Balmain the next year along with Andy Currier, while Joe Lydon was at Eastern Suburbs.

At the same time Andy Gregory and Steve Hampson were at the Illawarra Steelers. In 2001 Adrian Morley turned up at the Roosters and proceeded to cause havoc and mayhem for six seasons. These were all great players. However, right now you can put a very strong starting 13 on the field.

Don’t believe me? Have a look:

8. George Burgess

One half of the towering twins from Dewsbury. George hits the ball up with ferocity and is no slouch in defence and is capable of 50-plus minutes a game. 9. Ian Henderson A veteran of eight Tests for Scotland. A hard defender capable of try assists and tackle breaks.

10. Tom Burgess

The other half of the Burgess twins. Not quite as accomplished as brother George but two centimetres taller!

11. Luke Burgess

Now plying his trade at Manly, he is the oldest of the Burgess brothers and a versatile forward.

12. Mike Cooper

A hard as nails Pom who can play in the front or second row, or at lock. Particularly robust in defence and capable do big minutes.

13. Sam Burgess

The fiercest of the Poms. The difference he has made on the Rabbitohs since his return has been pronounced. When he goes forward, they go with him.

7. Josh Hodgson

The Raiders’ No.9 has demonstrated great playmaking skills. He has already performed a combined six line-break and try assists in 2016 – and has a great talent for 40/20s. Currently leading the Dally M count, it isn’t beyond reason that he could win it.

6. Gareth Widdop

A handy five-eighth, the lad from Halifax, West Yorkshire came to Australia in his mid-teens. Coming up through the Storm system, he was part of the 2012 premiership side.

5. Joe Burgess

Only 21 years of age, Burgess has already played 55 games for the Wigan Warriors. In that time he has scored 49 tries. He already has two for the Roosters. He played three Tests for England last season.

4. Jack Reed

Another Pom who moved to Australia early on, playing his junior football for the Bribie Island Warrigals. Initially in the Raiders system with Souths Logan, he was picked up by the Broncos. He represented England in 2011 and is a very solid option at centre with good one-on-one defence.

3. Elliot Whitehead

The 26-year-old has proven himself a versatile player. Although he mostly plays as a wide running back rower, he has also shown himself capable of scoring lots of tries, notching up 71 in 186 games.

2. Greg Eden

The 25-year-old has scored 40 tries in 79 career matches to date, at centre, wing and fullback. Having played at Castleford, Huddersfield, Hull KR, Salford and now the Broncos, Eden has played at almost as many clubs as the Deltones.

1. Sam Tomkins

Yes, I’m taking liberties here as Tomkins has returned to Wigan Warriors after a mixed two seasons at the Warriors – but he was just here. Any player who has scored 179 tries in 214 games of top grade footy is no slouch.

Have I missed anyone*? Tripping I remember back in the ‘80s and ‘90s that the penalty for being seen to trip an opposition player was to be sent off. Not so these days. In the 60th minute of the match between the Cronulla Sharks and Melbourne Storm, Marika Koroibete was penalised for a blatant trip on Chad Townsend.

If Townsend got through – as he should have – there was a good chance that a try was on. He had support and a couple of big forwards in front of him.

However, all it merited – in spite of a bunker review – was a penalty. Koroibete was not even sin binned. Further, the crime of blatantly tripping an opponent is apparently only worthy of a 67-point penalty from the match review committee. That isn’t even a one-week suspension. On Monday night we saw Tony Williams stay on the field after tripping Blake Austin.

Austin had Jarrod Croker in support and a try was well and truly on. However the bunker review saw the Williams infraction as being “off balance, not serious”.

I disagree. Williams deliberately tripped Austin. However, I also believe it was in the Raiders’ best interest for Williams to stay on the field. In the 80 minutes Williams played he made just five runs for 27 metres. He also missed two tackles and gave away three penalties.

For a man who is playing for a contract those aren’t the stats he needs to be putting forward. Since the advent of the on-field report system there hasn’t been a player sent off or sin binned for tripping.

The fact that the offence earns only 67 points at the judiciary shows there is very little disincentive to throwing out a desperate leg to stop an attacker getting passed – especially in a preliminary or grand final. The rules clearly state that tripping is an act of misconduct:

SECTION 15 – PLAYER’S MISCONDUCT: Definition of misconduct 1. A player is guilty of misconduct if he: (a) trips, kicks or strikes another player.

There it is, right up the front. Further, the referee can clearly give a player ten in the bin or send him off under the rules:

Power to dismiss: 6. In the event of misconduct by a player, the Referee shall, at his discretion, caution, temporarily suspend for ten minutes, or dismiss the offender.

Then there is this clause:

Temporary Suspension: 6. The power to temporarily suspend a player is not an encouragement to Referees to deal leniently in the event of misconduct which merits dismissal for ten (10) minutes.

I’m not really sure what that means. Does it mean ‘even though you have the power, don’t use it’, or does it mean ‘you’ve got the power, so use it you gutless pack of pillocks!’. Just because Bill Harrigan got hung out to dry in 2002 by Graeme Annesley and the NRL doesn’t mean you should be worried. I choose it to mean the latter. Tripping is total c*** Mr Archer, get the perpetrators off the field.

When is a punch not striking?

We have seen above that striking another player is considered player misconduct. In fact, it is one of the only offences that a player will actually be sin binned for in this era.

The other being an act that (definitively, no questions asked, positively) stops a try being scored (NOTE: does not apply to Aidan Guerra and penalty tries will happen as frequently as Parramatta premierships). However, in the second half of the Bulldogs versus Raiders match David Klemmer clearly punches Shannon Boyd. Unlike for Joey Leilua’s mostly open-handed swipe at Dylan Napa’s melon three weeks ago, there was no sin bin for Klemmer. I’m not sure whether Klemmer got Boyd in the head, but he definitely struck him. And that brings up another grey area.

When is a stike a strike? When is a punch a punch? What we’ve gleaned the NRL definition of striking is To punch the head of an opponent with a closed fist. It is considered misconduct regardless of provocation or self-defence. However, this definition is not in the rugby league Laws of the Game or in the 2016 NRL laws and interpretations. The only definition of striking is as follows: “Strike as applied to the foot means to attempt to secure possession of the ball in a scrum.” This is clearly irrelevant. As we’ve discussed before, slapping the head and punching the body of opponents seems to be just fine. Can I suggest, as striking opponents is the primary reason for sin binning players in the NRL, that a precise definition of what striking is, and isn’t, is incorporated into the rules of the game?

Blue shirt trainers

As a follow up to the piece on Allan Langer’s indiscretion that was caught on camera during the match against the Cowboys, I asked the following questions of the NRL:

1. What fine/punishment – if any – is being considered for the Broncos as a result of Allan Langer’s actions while acting as the Broncos’ blue shirt trainer on Friday night?

a. will The Broncos lose the competition points? b. will the Broncos be fined monetarily? c. will Langer be suspended from performing the blue shirt trainer role and if so for how long?

2. If no review and/or punishment is being considered, is the NRL going to scrap/revise the stated rules for blue shirt trainers in the game day operations manual?

The response was as follows: “Re blue trainers, clubs can be warned if there is a breach. Fines would only be considered if there is a prior history.” 

I have sent this follow up question: “Have the Broncos been warned for the Langer breach from the 82nd minute of the match against the Cowboys?” If offences aren’t being recorded, how can there be a prior history? I will let you know their response.

*James Graham of course! Just checking you were paying attention!

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