Despite it being Valentine’s Day today there was no love lost in several Super League clashes at the weekend with three high and dangerous challenges in particular demonstrating that the big league is well and truly back.
All three high shots were pretty ugly to say the least, and all three left their victims – Zak Hardaker (Leeds Rhinos), Paul Wellens (St Helens) and Theo Fages (Salford City Reds) – poleaxed on the turf for some time.
Thankfully none received substantial injuries, although in the case of Fages it was reported that he stopped breathing for several minutes after the incident.
The perpetrators of the three challenges (I use that term lightly) – Rangi Chase (Castleford Tigers), Ben Cross (Widnes Vikings) and Julian Bousquet (Catalans Dragons) respectively – have been handed bans of two matches, one match and four matches respectively by the RFL.
In the cases of Chase and Cross, it could be loosely argued that both players just mistimed their challenges resulting in contact being made with the head of their opponent.
However, there is no defence whatsoever for Bousquet’s attack with the shoulder on Fages, a hit so late he might as well have posted it.
Despite the incident occurring in just the third minute of the match referee Ben Thaler showed excellent judgement and no little courage in producing a deserved straight red card.
As did James Child for Ben Cross’ high shot on Paul Wellens, in a match evenly poised, on the hour mark, which ultimately swung the game in Saints’ favour.
There was much debate in the off-season about whether or not the shoulder charge should be banned by the RFL, as it has been in the NRL this season.
However, it isn’t the shoulder charge which is fundamentally dangerous, indeed a thunderous shoulder charge timed to perfection is a rare and spectacular thing of beauty in my book, and is something which very few players I’m aware of are against, in fact many tweeted the support for the shoulder charge at the time it was outlawed in Australia.
What is dangerous though is making contact with an opponent’s head, and the RFL needs to clamp down on repeat offenders by issuing longer suspensions and heavier fines, in order to protect players from such attacks.
Two local players who weren’t so fortunate when on the receiving end of high tackles in recent weeks are Scarborough Pirates’ captain, Adam Lee (pictured right), and youngster Tom Read who both sustained broken jaws in successive weeks while playing for the Pirates last month.
Their injuries illustrate the dangers of high and late shots and it’s definitely something which needs to be eradicated. My best wishes go to both Adam and Tom for a speedy recovery.
In other disturbing news, an Australian Crime Commission (ACC) report emerged towards the end of last week about widespread doping issues in a number of high profile Australian sports, with rugby league being implicated.
Earlier this week further news revealed six NRL clubs (Manly, Cronulla, Newcastle, Penrith, North Queensland and Canberra) were under scrutiny by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA) following the ACC report.
With Lance Armstrong’s recent admission of doping bringing the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs into the media spotlight once more these current revelations are potentially highly damaging to our game should anybody be proven to have doped and cheated.
I must stress that at the current time no players, coaches, officials or clubs have been identified as being guilty of doping.
“The use of prohibited substances such as peptides, hormones and illicit drugs is widespread amongst professional athletes.”
The chilling words of Australian Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare at a conference to announce the release of the ACC report last week.
It used to be that when people talked of sportsmen using drugs to gain advantage, images of Ben Johnson in Seoul in 1988 and anabolic steroids spring to mind.
However, science has moved on, as have the drugs which sportspeople of a certain persuasion use to cheat.
They are more sophisticated. The peptides and hormones which Jason Clare refers to mimic hormones produced naturally in the body, and as such are much more difficult to test for.
One such substance is Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which former Leeds, Wigan and Bradford hooker Terry Newton was serving a two-year suspension for testing positive for at the time of his tragic death a little over two years ago.
Newton was the first professional sportsman to have ever tested positive for HGH.
To think that Newton was and is the only rugby league player to have ever indulged in the use of HGH is in my opinion naïve.
In a sport where injuries are common place and strength is paramount, a substance such as HGH which aids the repair of tissue, promotes muscle growth and strips fat has untold benefits, particularly when there is intense pressure to perform, which could ultimately be the difference between paying the mortgage or joining the queue at the job centre for many players.
The issues surrounding doping in cycling have been hugely damaging for that particular sport, and I genuinely hope that the sport I love, rugby league, does not have to endure a similar period in the coming weeks as the current investigation Down Under unfolds.
Thanks for reading