Hull KR coach Tony Smith’s plea as two more banned for “squirrel grip” tackles

WITH TWO more players banned for ‘squirrel grab’ tackles - including an eight-game suspension for Tom Lineham - Hull KR coach Tony Smith has urged the RFL to set new guidelines to clarify how such offences will be punished.

Painful blow: Hull Kr's Jordan Abdull has been banned for two games for a "squirrel grip" tackle. Picture by Allan McKenzie

His stand-off Jordan Abdull was handed a two-match suspension last night after an independent tribunal ruled he had behaved in a way ‘contrary to the true spirit of the game’.

That was a polite way of saying he grabbed the genitals of St Helens player James Bentley in Friday’s 21-20 Golden Point defeat.

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Admittedly, Abdull - who pleaded guilty and was fined £500 - successfully challenged the grading of the offence from D down to grade C.

Nevertheless, he became the third Super League player in just four weeks to be found guilty of such an act.

The second was Lineham, the Warrington Wolves winger who received that significant ban at the same tribunal yesterday evening, after Castleford Tigers centre Alex Foster raised concerns about a challenge in Thursday’s clash between the sides.

The RFL’s match review panel rated that a grade F offence - the highest possible - and referred it to the tribunal where Lineham unsuccessfully contested the decision and was also fined £500.

It was, of course, also a Castleford player – Liam Watts – on the end of an ‘inappropriate grab’ last month when St Helens and England winger Tommy Makinson was suspended for five matches.

Clarity: Hull KR boss Tony Smith wants the RFL to clarify how "squirrel grip" tackles will be punished. Picture Bruce Rollinson

His grade F offence was downgraded to E, he pleaded guilty and his previous good disciplinary record also came into play. Given this plethora of such incidents, anyone would think the bizarre act is suddenly becoming a distasteful issue blighting the sport.

However, in the case of Abdull, at least, Smith believes that is not true.

“That same tackle a month ago, he wouldn’t have been in the judiciary (disciplinary),” he said, speaking yesterday afternoon, before the case was heard.

“No way would it be. The tackle between the legs has gone on for years and it’s not for any unsavoury reasons.

“Some accidents have happened over the years. People have tried to grab a pair of shorts or the inner thigh to make a tackle and that’s what Jordan was doing.

“Sometimes that goes astray and accidents happen. That’s what it was. If you watch Jordan, he reacts that way – like ‘I didn’t get the shorts, I got something else’ – and he pulls his hand out straight away.

“But because somebody has recently been suspended (Makinson) – and possibly there’s going to be another one (Lineham) – we’re resigned to the fact he’ll probably get suspended rather than there be common sense.

“If this is how it is then put something out for education; tell players if you do make that tackle you’re likely to go to the judiciary.”

Video footage showed how Makinson and Lineham’s contacts were both quite blatant.

But former England chief Smith argues there are plenty of grey areas and accidental contacts so guidance is now required.

He said: “Sometimes it warrants a tackle when somebody goes between the legs to try make a tackle.

“Sometimes it gets picked up by a ref, sometimes not.

“But the whole thing is changed now because of what happened with Tommy (Makinson). It’s brought something to light and now it’s deemed something else.

“That’s my big disappointment on all this. I just think the League now needs to put something out there to say ‘listen, if you go in between someone’s legs, you run the risk of going to the judiciary’.

“It’s just topical at the moment. We’ve seen a couple of incidents. Jordan’s is a whole lot different and I’d love for common sense. But it’s changed the whole way we look at how people tackle and what they grab hold of by mistake.”

Crucially, Abdull, 24, now misses Friday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final against Leeds Rhinos as well as the Super League game against the same opponents six days later.

He has been in excellent form since returning for the first time since lockdown in the shock win over Wigan Warriors and helping bottom-placed Rovers push champions Saints close last week.

Smith has options as he looks for a replacement with Jamie Ellis and Ryan Brierley as well as Joe Keyes all hoping to get the nod.

He said former Rhinos prop Robbie Mulhern is also fit and will return to the squad on Friday.

Meanwhile, Saints centre Kevin Naiqama successfully challenged his two-match ban, accepting a high tackle verdict on KR’s Kane Linnett but seeing the offence downgraded from a Grade C to Grade A with a £500 fine and no suspension.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson