Dave Craven: Time for change in rugby league, both on and off the field

Joel Tomkins.
Joel Tomkins.
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THIS is a column I never thought I would have to write.

Commenting on rugby league players feigning injury seems as foreign as writing about rugby league players auditioning for The Royal Ballet.

It seems utterly absurd. This, after all, is rugby league. Undoubtedly, one of the toughest sports in the world. Where players ignore pain. They become immune to it.

Indeed, there is a well-used saying that states: “Footballers spend 90 minutes pretending to be hurt. Rugby players spend 80 minutes pretending not to be.”

Obviously, that is a sweeping generalisation and unfair on so many footballers, but you understand the thinking behind it.

I, for one, grew up playing – and loving – both football and rugby but now, as a parent, I always envisaged encouraging my kids to play rugby if they had to choose.

I, for one, grew up playing – and loving – both football and rugby but now, as a parent, I always envisaged encouraging my kids to play rugby if they had to choose.

Dave Craven

My thinking was it had better values. I wince when I watch highly-paid footballers diving, cheating, diving some more, cheating some more, strutting up into the face of referees, all arms flailing. It is pathetic. Embarrassing.

Rugby league, in my eyes, offered some sort of respite from all of that nonsense. Yet, alarmingly, it is now a subject that has to be addressed in rugby league as well.

Jamie Peacock, the former England captain, Tweeted this on Sunday night: “I watched a lot of rugby league this weekend. I can’t not say it. I’m sick to death of players faking injury or spending an eternity on the floor injured only to get back up and play on...

“The respect our game has is built on players toughness...please start showing this again..”

Amen to that. It is clear for anyone to see players are doing just what he says. It seems ludicrous.

The trend – and, for the good of the game, it must only be a trend – is that, especially in games broadcast live, some players are falling to the floor under any form of contact hoping replays will be viewed by officials to see some indiscretion.

The upshot of that is to earn a penalty or even a card of some colour for the opponent. It is happening more and more often.

Physios seem to be on the field almost as long as some props nowadays. And then the proverbial magic sponge sorts everything out. But as well as being a stain on the sport’s character, it is also ruining the spectacle; some games are taking more than two hours to complete yet rugby league is supposed to be high-tempo, relentless, full-blooded action.

Having spoken to many coaches this week, clearly no one is instructing their players to do this; it is the individual’s choice.

They may well think they are helping their team but they are merely only jeopardising everything good about rugby league.

It is hard for the RFL to address any of this – how do you prove it? – but the coaches can make a stand. I’m told it will be addressed at their next meeting and, as a collective, they must ensure steps are taken to eradicate it.

Obviously, the big subject this week has been the video showing Wigan’s Joel Tomkins’s vile abuse of a barmaid. It is horrendous. He has rightly been suspended and fined and will, no doubt, forever regret his repugnant actions .

Yet, with the best will in the world, rugby players have been getting drunk and lary for as long as the game has been played.

It doesn’t make it right what Tomkins did – far from it – but the difference now, in the modern era, is everyone has access to an instant camera and able to record misdemeanours that previously would have gone unrecorded.

They have to learn and change but on and off the field.