General David Taylor - Judicial Inequality?


Judicial Inequality?

During the court case in which former Wests Tiger Jarrod McCracken sued the Melbourne Storm and two of its former players, Stephen Kearney and Marcus Bai, over a spear tackle in 2000 that prematurely ended his professional rugby league career, footage of the incident was broadcast as evidence. The tackle, as a result of which McCracken suffered neck and spinal injuries, earned the former Kiwi captain AUS$97,000. More importantly, however, it demonstrated the essential need to maintain player safety and welfare.

The National Rugby League introduced a new rule stating that a tackled player could not be placed onto the ground past a horizontal angle, so as to avoid unnecessary contact with the head. This makes perfect sense, of course, especially in light of the number of players who have had to give up the game because of a neck or spine injury, the most notable of recent times being Andrew Johns.

At the same time, the governing body has taken measures to protect its officials from physical and verbal abuse. The aforementioned Johns experienced this first hand in 2006 when he let out a tirade of angry words at a touch judge during one highly emotional game, after which he received a two match suspension at the hands of the judiciary.

But has the National Rugby League gone too far? In their efforts to ensure the safety of their employees, have they placed the welfare of match officials above that of the players themselves?

During the Round 5, 2007 match between the New Zealand Warriors and the South Sydney Rabbitohs, a match that will be remembered as being the catalyst to a change of the obstruction rule, two other incidents occurred that attracted the attention of the judiciary, both involving Warriors fullback Wade McKinnon.

In the official Laws Of The Game, a player is deemed to be guilty of a Dangerous Throw “if, in any tackle of, or contact with, an opponent that player is so lifted that he is placed in a position where it is likely that the first part of his body to make contact with the ground will be his head or neck (‘the dangerous position’), then that tackle or contact will be deemed to been avoidedâ€. [Section 15, Note 1 (d)]

In the second half of that match, Souths player Dean Widders and a fellow Rabbitoh lifted McKinnon in a tackle that saw the fullback to land headfirst onto the ground. However, referee Jason Robinson declined to award a penalty, saying to McKinnon: “You put yourself into that positionâ€. For the referee to suspect a player would put his body into a dangerous and potentially career-ending position for a mere penalty is absurd enough, but when McKinnon pushed Robinson two minutes later, he found himself on the end of a contrary conduct charge.

As a one-eyed and biased Warriors fan, I completely agree that McKinnon was right to get charged. However, I take issue with the length of the ban in comparison to the one placed on Widders and other players guilty of dangerous throws, such as the Warriors’ own Michael Witt and Tony Martin a few weeks later. Widders was charged with a grade one dangerous throw, meaning an early guilty plea prevented him from missing any game time. In contrast, McKinnon was forced to sit on the sidelines for two weeks after pleading guilty to his grade three charge.

At what point was McKinnon’s act, which didn’t put the referee into any physical danger, worse than a tackle that could potentially remove a man from the playing field for good? It is right that the National Rugby League works to protect its officials, but what seems to be lacking is common sense.

Numerous other examples exist, some more relevant than others, in the recent history of the judiciary. In Round 5 alone, Widders, Dragon Ben Hornby, and Bronco Darius Boyd failed to miss any game time after taking early please following dangerous throws. Meanwhile, Jeremy Smith, the last player before McKinnon to manhandle a referee, sat out for four rounds following his indiscretion.

One would have thought a player’s safety would take a higher precedence over a referee’s comfort, especially when situations like McCracken’s arise. Clearly, the judiciary appear to disagree.



Great stuff Jes, very well written indeed.

Would love to hear the reaction if it was run in RLW or BigLeague. Do you write articles professionally?


Thanks, mate. No, I don't write professionally, but I'd love to. I do a little bit of writing for SuperLeague Mag in my spare time, though. :)