Matthew Elliott: Protect the eyes with bigger bans for ‘grubby’ acts

Message needs to be sent: Josh McGuire.

Message needs to be sent: Josh McGuire. Photo: Getty

It is time the NRL Match Review Committee sent a stronger signal it intends to rub intentional contact with the eyes out of the game.

On Thursday night North Queensland’s Josh McGuire was involved in his third contrary conduct incident this year that involved facial contact.

He is now facing a four-week ban.

Add to that the nine-game suspension handed to South Sydney’s George Burgess for eye gouging and Cronulla winger Ronaldo Mulitalo escaping with a early plea fine of $1150 after copping a contrary conduct charge.

That one related to his contact after tackling Penrith winger Josh Mansour in the Panthers’ victory over the Sharks.

Mansour’s eye required attention following the incident.

There have been comments that a couple of these incidents fell more in the “trying to annoy the opponent” category rather than malicious.

If our game gets in the position where it is assessing the level of severity of intentional contact with the eyes, we are in serious trouble.

If you are not sure what I am taking about, just think about going up to a friend and try touching their eye – you will understand three things.

Firstly, you can not accidentally put your hand on someone’s face and push your fingers into their eye without being aware of it.

Secondly, you will know yourself that with even the lightest of touches that there is pain and high risk associated with this action.

Thirdly, you’d never do it because it would put your friendship at risk and possibly result in further confrontation. We all know this.

The incident involving Josh McGuire. Photo: Channel Nine

In the early 1980s Rugby League decided to remove the violence from the game and put Jim Comans in charge of the NSW Rugby League Judiciary and he took up the challenge by suspending players like Les Boyd, Steve Kneen and Bob Cooper for over a year.

While this has been an ongoing process, I believe this is one area of the evolution of the game the administration has got right.

Calls to “bring back the biff” are delivered by those who have short memories, as the rest of us got bored out of our heads during games as play had to be stopped for up to 10 minutes at a time while refs and touchies sorted out the rubbish.

Apparently there were times when people enjoyed going to colosseums and watching people fed to the lions and gladiators tee off on each other with swords, but the human race has evolved and so has the game of rugby league.

Comments that the game is not as tough as it used to be are delivered from a complete lack of awareness and understanding of what actually happens on the park.

This week during the ‘Retro Round’ theme on TV, I watched some international games from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.

The speed of the game, athleticism and skill execution were not in the same stratosphere of NRL club games that we see now.

No doubt there was a lot more contact with the head, elbows being thrown about and dirt in the tackles, but this certainly did not make the games any more entertaining.

Most certainly we want to see physical contests where intensity and aggression are part of the terrain while these young athletes are chasing dreams – for the real fans that is where the entertainments lies.

A result of this environment will occasionally see poor execution and decisions that lead to dangerous outcomes.

For example, Sam Burgess’s hit on Matt Moylan drew a lot of attention this week. Regardless of the consequence it can be argued it was not a violent act but rather poor execution of tackle technique.

The McGuire incident falls into another category, which can only be described as “grubby”.

There is nothing this act could be seen as remotely entertaining. In fact, it not only brings the player into disrepute but it drags the sport with him.

While Jim Coman’s was perhaps dealing with a stronger trend, I do believe that we need to rub the grubbiness out of our game.

Four weeks for this sort of contact to the eyes is not a strong enough deterrent to remove it from every single players mindset.

Former St George player, Matthew Elliott has coached NRL teams Canberra, Penrith and New Zealand Warriors

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