Have your say: Shoulder charge is set to be consigned to history

It is something which traditionally brings the crowd to its feet and is seen by many as a highlight of the sport yet the shoulder charge is in real danger of being eradicated from rugby league.

The Australian Rugby League moved closer to outlawing the tackle technique yesterday with the rule change expected to be extended around the world.

The ARL Commission have accepted a recommendation to make the shoulder charge illegal from 2013 after reviewing a detailed report which suggested the increased size of athletes has increased the likelihood of injury.

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But it has caused consternation throughout the sport with a number of high-profile players and coaches urging for an urgent re-think as the game, so proud of its tough nature, risks being unnecessarily sanitized.

Invariably, Super League follows the lead of their antipodean cousins and the subject will be discussed at the Rugby Football League’s next laws committee meeting next month.

The governing body have already assisted the ARL in producing the report and are committed, where possible, to standardising the rules in both competitions so it is easy to see what will happen next.

However, the statistics elicited from the findings suggest the move is a major over-reaction.

In the NRL, shoulder charges made up just 0.05 per cent of tackles in 2012 which equates to 71 in a total of 142,355 tackles.

That averages out as one shoulder charge nearly every three games but only five per cent of them resulted in injury.

Effectively, of those 71 only four actually caused any injury.

Ex-England captain Adrian Morley, who garnered a reputation early in his career for producing such “big hits”, is truly dismayed about the development.

The Warrington Wolves prop was a major success in the NRL during a six-year stint with Sydney Roosters and can understand the bafflement pouring out of Australia.

“It’s part and parcel of our game,” he told the Yorkshire Post last night. “The crowd loves to see a good shoulder charge and it’s surprising really that they have taken this step.

“I don’t think there’s even a problem with the shoulder charge. If there’s numerous people getting injured you could understand how it would have a case to answer, but there’s been no major injuries over there.

“I wouldn’t say the game’s gone soft – that’s not true – but the shoulder charge was banned in rugby union and I think that makes rugby league appealing, not just to the crowd but the players too. People like to see it.

“I’m not sure what the powers-that-be think but I hope it isn’t banned in Super League as well.”

Morley, 35, initially shot to prominence with Leeds Rhinos where his aggressive tackling technique made him an instant hit with the fans.

“It’s fair to say my game’s changed since and my shoulder charges are few and far between now,” he admitted.

“But it’s something at the time I really did enjoy with all the physicality of it.

“If that’s taken out of the game it will be a real disappointment.”

Some of rugby league’s leading coaches, including legendary ex-Australia boss Wayne Bennett, Manly chief Geoff Toovey and Parramatta Eels’ Ricky Stuart, condemned the ARL Commission’s decision.

Some instances where the shoulder charge has gone wrong, and a player has finished making a high tackle have persuaded them to take the Draconian action but surely heftier disciplinary actions and weightier bans would have sufficed?

When the method is enacted correctly it is still one of the finest sights in sport.

People still talk about Sam Burgess’s clattering collision on New Zealand Fuifui Moimoi during the 18-year-old’s Great Britain debut in 2007.

Sonny Bill Williams – who has returned to the NRL after winning the World Cup with the All Blacks – is also renowned for his ability to fell opponents in such dramatic fashion.

Huddersfield Giants head coach Paul Anderson, though, is less forceful in his condemnation of the move, insisting the technique is increasingly redundant.

“People are making a big thing out of something that isn’t even an issue,” he admitted.

“If it’s at the head I can see the point, but if it’s shoulder to shoulder I can’t see what the problem is.

“However, for us here at Huddersfield, players know if they want to go and put a shoulder charge on they just won’t play.

“That’s because it’s not efficient or effective. More often than not, an opposing player will just bounce up, get on and play the ball when we’re trying to minimise the space they have to play.

“It’s great when it happens for the crowd and it raises the atmosphere but there’s always the problem of interpretation too.

“I don’t want to be spending Tuesday afternoons arguing (at a disciplinary) whether a player has his arms up or down.

“As a coach I’d never coach it.”

New Zealand already has a domestic ban in place and the NRL interim chief executive Shane Mattiske said: “This is about reducing a potential risk of serious injury to our players.

“The report shows that the shoulder charge is not a significant part of the game and its removal is not likely to impact on the way the game is played.

“With the increase in size and strength of the players, we believe this is the time to eliminate a potential risk.”