Hull KR boss Tony Smith supports crackdown on dangerous tackles

HULL KR head coach Tony Smith is in full support of the RFL’s crackdown on dangerous tackles insisting rugby league will eventually disappear if it does not “clean itself up.”

Hull KR coach Tony Smith. Picture: Will Palmer/SWpix.com
Hull KR coach Tony Smith. Picture: Will Palmer/SWpix.com

The opening round of Betfred Super League saw three red cards and a raft of suspensions, a dozen players eventually being charged with foul play by the match review panel.

Some coaches, including Hull FC’s Brett Hodgson and Wakefield Trinity’s Willie Poching, have expressed concern about the severity of some of the calls amid fears the sport is softening up.

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However, former Leeds Rhinos and England chief Smith feels it is necessary to do the utmost possible to cut out head shots and other dangerous challenges for the safety of players and the future of the sport. That is especially so in light of a number of former international players announcing in October that they intend to bring legal action against the governing body for allegedly failing to protect them from the risks of brain damage caused by concussion.

Hull KR saw their own prop Albert Vete banned for two games for a dangerous tackle in Friday’s loss against Wigan Warriors.

They have not appealed and, instead, Smith said: “He did something wrong and he paid a price for it.

“It was poor tackle technique. I’m on board with all that.

“I’ve not seen every incident over the weekend where players have ended up reported but I have no disputes with the way they (RFL) are going in that respect. We have got to change our game and our attitude towards what we’re doing in the tackle.

Hull FC’s Jake Connor recieves a red card from referee Marcus Griffiths after making contact with the head against Wakefield Trinity. Picture: Tony Johnson.

“I’ve heard a lot of coaches complaining about it – and I may end up being one of them – but I’ve had no reason to so far. I hear our game is about collision, contact and aggression. But nowadays it’s about having control in tackles. It isn’t all about aggression and collision.

“It is if it’s controlled and that’s the point the lawmakers are making to us and we all have to buy into it or otherwise we won’t have a sport; we won’t have people to play our sport and we’ll all be getting sued left, right and centre if we don’t do something about it.

“Our game can’t just be about the collisions and the big impact unless we can do it safely where it doesn’t involve injuring peoples’ joints or their brain.

“To do that, we may have to tone some of our game down.”

Australian Smith, 55, conceded his viewpoint changed after an enlightening coaches meeting in the off-season where Paul Cullen, the former Warrington coach who now sits on the match review panel, explained the changes the RFL was going to make.

“It was probably the most significant such meeting I’ve been involved in in 10, 15 or maybe even 20 years,” he said.

“That meeting got messages out that will have a greater influence on rugby league than any other meeting I’ve been to in that time.

“I got it. I think: we need to change other wise we are not going to be about as a sport.

“When I first saw what they were talking about at I was ‘Really….? You’re joking. That’s not a sin-bin or a send off.’

“That’s because of what I’ve been used to. When I came away and thought more about it, I realised I’d rather make those adjustments and have plenty of people playing our game – more kids playing in the future because it’s safer – than say I’m an old traditionalist that likes a bit of biff and I’m going to watch big collisions to see people get whiplash and concussion.

“I’ve had to make some adjustments in how I look at our game. And I’m going along with it at this stage. I told our boys it could be one of the biggest turning points in the last 20 years.

“We need to clean it up and make it less dangerous: appealing for participants, not just viewers.

“It’s not going to be easy to change our habits straight away – it’s hard when you do something for so long – and I think this is why some of the coaches are a bit frustrated.

“In a few weeks’ time when I have five others all suspended for what may seem innocuous tackles, I might be saying they have gone too severe!

“But, if I look at the greater picture, I agree with the summation there may be short-term pain for long-term gain.”

Smith says Dean Hadley, Ethan Ryan, Will Dagger and Elliot Minchella all come into contention for Saturday’s trip to Huddersfield Giants.