Jarrod Mullen, centre, of the Knights celebrates after winning the round two NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Newcastle Knights at 1300SMILES Stadium on March 14, 2015 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)As long as the rules allow you to tackle the guy with the ball, the opposition’s star player is going to be pressured, double-teamed and stalked.
SO, what about those Knights in Townsville on Saturday night?
Again, nothing flash, but like the week before they demonstrated a real appetite for the competition, put their overalls on and hung in.
I’ll get to the overplayed Thurston drama in a minute, but I just wanted to note two nearly identical come-from-behind fightbacks in the first two weeks of this competition.
This is not ground breaking but a good sign all the same, not least for an administration trying to woo support back to the castle.
The Knights’ strength looks to be an ability to concentrate and execute defensively for long periods.
The pointless second half for the Cowboys, and similar application the week before against the Warriors, sit as the example thus far.
The attack is taking some time to gel, but there are positive signs.
Excellence in defence is the Holy Grail for all serious football teams, and I sense this group want to build a reputation.
But when competing at the edge of one’s capacity, errors can occur, with unintended consequences.
Staying on the right side of the rule book, by not giving away undisciplined penalties and not finding oneself on report and suspended, is part of the art form of defence, quite apart from one’s expected duty of care to the opposition.
Which brings me back to the JT rough-up debate.
Many, and not just north of the border, believed that an injustice was perpetrated on an iconic player.
By implication, the hard-fought Knights victory was said to lack honour as it was achieved by means fair and foul.
Now, I get the late-tackles argument.
Beau Scott was late-ish in one well cited example that warranted a penalty.
Likewise, the tackle where Thurston ended up in a dangerous position on his head needs to be eradicated from the game.
These should be standard calls by referees, and by and large they are picked up.
Johnathan Thurston, down after that tackle.
But, really, was anything other than pressuring the star player with the ball, as regularly as your lungs and legs will allow, ever considered an effective defensive strategy against the often one-man-band Thurston.
Of course, as long as the rules allow you to tackle the guy with the ball, the opposition’s star player is going to be pressured, double-teamed and constantly stalked. Instructions like ‘‘cut down his thinking time’’ or ‘‘discourage him from running’’ are standard refrains in dressing rooms across codes. It comes with the territory and is exploited by our ball players.
High-profile calls to further protect the creative and vertically challenged should be met with caution.
It should not be overlooked that it is precisely this blind defensive commitment from rampaging forwards that smaller, pivot-like players harness and rely on to weave their magic; to sell their dummies and feign their kicks.
This inequality creates opportunity: fast man on slow, big on little, wily on buggered.
Absolutely, penalise any tackles deemed late and/or unsafe.
But nobody, including the little guys, wants to see ball-playing maestros conducting their team’s fortunes in the proverbial ‘‘dinner suit’’, least of all JT (or Tommy Raudonikis for that matter).
Todd Carney was found to have been wrongfully dismissed.
■ This column last week painted a bleak picture of the legal rights often afforded Australian professional athletes.
Some suggested it was a window into the future for many occupations.
But give credit where it is due: This week things are looking up for NRL players.
Take Todd Carney, the erstwhile superstar guy found guilty in the court of public opinion for his regrettable ‘‘bubbling’’ photo.
After a nine-month process that was clearly in no hurry, the NRL appeals committee this week found in favour of the so-called ‘‘disgraced’’ Cronulla player for wrongful dismissal.
Fat lot of good that will do him now he is exiled in the south of France, but a vindication nonetheless, and further proof of a knee-jerk culture within the game’s administrations.
The lack of procedural fairness evident in Carney’s case highlights the challenging world professional players find themselves in.
Thankfully, some semblance of balance was restored with this outcome.
The accused Titans players were also afforded their natural rights with reinstatement to their employment after pleading not guilty in a Gold Coast court this week.
The assumption of innocence, before a court decides otherwise, was no doubt front of mind for barristers hired by the Gold Coast club when deliberating their next move.
In the end, CEO Graham Annesley had no choice but to comply with the esteemed advice. I reckon they could have saved their precious gold and asked any fair-minded individual on the street what would be an appropriate position to take.
Time and process will sort this mess out, but in the meantime these players are free to ply their trade without criticism until they’ve had their day in court.
But things are not all good in the world of player rights, and the example below could damage the health and welfare of our younger players.
The 19-year-old Tigers rookie Matthew Lodge ignored a direction to leave a licensed premises in Kings Cross on January 11 after leaving his phone inside and was arrested after arguing the toss with police.
As those who know the area, this is normally not a hanging offence but more a preventative measure by police dealing in the unpredictable and dangerous world of the Cross.
Matt would have been filthy on himself for getting in such a situation, but, after having his day in court, he hopes to resurrect his reputation.
So how did Tigers management deal with this mistake by a young man a year or two out of school? Provide some extra, perhaps firmer, support and guidance? Now that would take some imagination.
No. The rookie was stood down from training for a week and excluded from the Auckland Nines and the club’s final trial game.
He was eventually selected and played in week one of the premiership, but two months after the incident the club this week officially found he had breached behavioural guidelines and would be fined $10,000 for his sin.
Does it end there? Of course the police arm of the NRL would need its pound of flesh and so naturally imposed an additional $10,000.
That $5000 was suspended shows the Integrity Unit put some thought into it.
All up – and I don’t care where you come from or how anti-big-time footballer you are, that equates to nearly $20,000 he has lost from his employment.
I’d like to hear of any reader who gets fined arbitrarily in the workplace at all, much less these significant amounts of earnings.
But in this day and age one could argue he broke the rules and must be punished, irrespective of how many levels of punishment you must endure.
But I’d like to raise the question of support for these young guys. Putting the matter of due process to one side, the game needs to be mindful of the immense pressure these youngsters are under.
Brought into a rarefied world at a tender age knowing little other than footy and adulation, success or failure can have profound effects.
Desperately tragic player suicides have occurred four times in the past few years.
Is it just a societal issue and the league players are simply a subset of that?
Or should greater attention be paid to the plight of many young men who struggle to meet, much less understand, the professional expectations thrust on them at an age when most are still on ‘‘P’’ plates?