If Betfair or Centrebet offered odds on which NRL Club would be the first to complain about the implementation of the ban on the “grapple tackle,” the Melbourne Storm would have been at unbackable odds.
But at least you would have had your money returned, as after the first weekend of trial games, it was the Storm coach, Craig Bellamy, who complained first and loudest.
That was predictable because the ban on the grapple tackle was introduced because other clubs complained the Storm used it last season to slow down play, and in doing so risked causing serious injury.
The fact that referees handed out a string of penalties last weekend should not surprise. While the Storm used the grapple more than any other team, they were hardly alone – especially in tight contests.
I agree with the Eels coach, Brian Smith, that it will open up the game – once players adjust to the new rule.
At a time when the other rugby code is suffering from the pedantic implementation of rules by referees, slowing down play with endless stoppages, there is a real opportunity for rugby league to become an even better spectacle.
The grapple tackle is not just dangerous – it slows down the flow of play. Its abolition has the total backing of coaches (even the Storm could hardly protest too much).
Anything that makes the game safer is welcome – making it faster is an added bonus.
With a crackdown on tackles around the head, more offloads will happen and the ball will be kept alive much longer. That might not suit one or two clubs, but they will have to change their style or wallow at the bottom of the table.
After a few rounds of the coming premiership season, the grapple tackle will be gone forever, and we will be asking why it was not banned earlier.