State of OriginNRL chief executive Dave Smith makes no apologies for his hardline stance on punching, despite claims it contributed to the niggle in NSW’s fiery win over Queensland.
There has barely been a punch thrown since Smith’s controversial punch-and-you’re-in-the-sin-bin edict 12 months ago, introduced after Paul Gallen’s infamous blow to the head of Nate Myles in game one last year. Strictly speaking, Myles could have been binned for landing a blow to the head of James Tamou, although officials opted not to punish a weak retaliatory strike for a forearm in the head.
The greater issue is the niggle which crept into league’s showpiece event, with players baiting each other in the hope they would commit a send-off offence that would leave the opposition a man short. Those tactics resulted in a number of AFL-style melees, with few opportunities for the marquee men to showcase their attacking skills.
Smith, however, said he was comfortable with his crackdown on the biff.
”I think it is clear that punching has been virtually eliminated from the game,” Smith said. ”While there will always be plenty of passion and feeling in State of Origin matches, the players realise that punching is not tolerated.
”I think that sends the right message to junior players and their parents that there is no place for violence in rugby league.”
NSW forward Greg Bird, who finally experienced an Origin series win after returning from suspension, said the punching ban had sullied the spectacle.
”I think it’s embarrassing, really. People can run in and push,” Bird said.
”You’ve got halfbacks slapping back-rowers in the face. If Beau Scott could actually do something about it, I don’t think you would ever see that. I don’t think you would have seen it 20 years ago.
”I don’t think it’s a good look for the game. You can sort of take the referees out of the game by allowing players to sort it out themselves.
”It’s not biff. It’s just people being able to stand up for themselves. People run 30 metres to push and you turn around and can’t do anything about it. I guess it’s not for me to make the big calls or the rules. I don’t think it’s a good look for our game. I’d much rather see people standing up for themselves.
”We are out there to play rugby league, we’re not out there to fight. But sometimes emotions boil over and things happen. I’m not a big fan of the pushing and shoving melees.
”People pushing and shoving, it can’t go any further than that. They made rules last year that you can’t punch, then you see Mylesy punch Jimmy Tamou in the face. It should be cut and dry. They should let people play football and enjoy themselves.”
There were many unsavoury incidents, most notably an alleged headbutt from Johnathan Thurston on opposing pivot Josh Reynolds in the final minutes. It was a rare loss of composure from Thurston, who has inspired countless comebacks in similar scenarios.
”I haven’t seen Johnathan Thurston like that, ever, since I’ve started playing with him in first grade,” said Blues forward Tamou, Thurston’s club teammate at North Queensland.
”You could see where the passion for them was. I was looking at them there, smiling, because there were only three or four minutes to go. I could see we got under his skin there.”
Tamou said he was unsurprised the Maroons resorted to niggling tactics as their unprecedented winning run came to an end.
”Absolutely, with things not going their way and us up on the scoreboard, I expected that. Everyone expected that. We expected that from the first minute, from kick-off.
”With all the niggly stuff that’s gone on in the field, this is much better. They will be hurting more from us winning that.”