Up Front with Tony Butterfield

BINNED: At least Knights skipper Trent Hodkinson was showing a competitor's natural instincts. Picture: Getty Images
BINNED: At least Knights skipper Trent Hodkinson was showing a competitor's natural instincts. Picture: Getty Images

Trent Hodkinson’s transformation from his normal mild-mannered diplomatic style to raving Knights supporter marked a milestone moment for the young captain. Feeling wronged from a poorly managed scrum loss and knowing the strategic importance of the moment, he let his emotions spill forth.

ASSESSMENT: Brendan Elliot

ASSESSMENT: Brendan Elliot

Beautiful.

That’s what we need from our captain.

Misjudged absolutely, but as captain with the weight of the club and community on his shoulders, he cracked.

He and his team had worked too hard for the moment (to win two straight) to have it blown by a referee who couldn’t be bothered re-packing the scrum properly. At the time, and in Hodko’s meticulous head, the statement was possibly spot-on. (Though he could ask his forwards to pack properly next time).

But next to calling the ref a cheat, “you’ve just cost us the game” wins the silver medal and you have to be sent.

He’ll learn from that. But what is obvious is our captain cares deeply about his colours, his team and their fortunes, enough to occasionally forget himself. 

* HEAD-injury assessments will only increase at all levels of contact sports. Not just league. But round three of the season produced possibly more HIAs than at any time in the history of the game. A good result absolutely for player welfare. But, even then, some slipped through the cracks. So what’s going on?

The broadcasters love the speed, size, power, intensity and collision of the modern game, but it also highlights an inconvenient truth.

As sure as mass x acceleration = force, unless new rules change the game fundamentally, by shrinking and slowing the game down, we may not eventually have a game as we know it.

Speaking of game changing, notwithstanding the announcement of James McManus’ legal action, round three of 2017 will go down as the watershed moment when concussion was finally taken seriously. Granted, some got the message by omission, but in the weeks and months ahead, few transgressors will escape the glare this issue casts.

I believe a comfortable resolution for the future will come only from significant and unprecedented levels of collaboration and honesty among all stakeholders. A well-defined evidenced-based philosophy needs to be forthcoming, or the decline in the prospects of this game at both junior and senior level will continue.

Jumping into solution mode for a minute, the reinstatement of the traditional reserve grade next year makes it possible for experienced players – who are required to have played, say, no less than 60 minutes earlier in the day – to sit on the first-grade bench for use only as an interchange for concussion. Especially important for poor old backs, who seem to have nobody to replace them on a regular bench.

As for this year, the introduction of an 18th or 19th man may need to be available to coaches as a matter of priority. 

* IN the meantime, doing their part, local junior league coaches are setting the pace in the absence of direction from their respective leagues on this issue.

The CARE Sport – Concussion assessment and Response App – has been adopted by one motivated coach I spoke to this week. Worried about the hugely variable ways in which his players might experience, or exhibit symptoms of a concussive episode, he can now provide his players with objective, real-time evidence that, if failed, triggers a week or two on the sidelines.

Sure, there will be those who respond that such an App is an improper medical assessment tool, no better than a scare-mongering Google health search. This may be true, but what else can the game recommend? Is there training available for first-aid officers and trainers? Is there any leader out there offering anything other than platitudes and finger pointing?

*   BRONCOS stirrer Sam Thaiday was cast as the villain in his spiteful encounter against the Storm last week. Gee, no love lost between these two teams and plenty of examples to back that up.

More facials than at a Saturday-afternoon salon party and liberal use of the old forearm toothbrush set the tone. Complemented by hair pulling and all manner of niggle and cheap shots, unsportsmanlike conduct was the rule rather than the exception.

So why was Sammy singled out in that game? A Queenslander maybe? The over-the-top media focus south of the border? And why did the NRL decide to focus on that incident? Simply in response to the media interest? 

Don’t get me wrong, what he did was a cheap shot. Not my style and a sleight responded to in more conventional manner back in the day. But, seriously, it was a sapling in a forest of cheap shots. Harvested equally by both sides.

Moreover, the footage you see on the TV focuses on the offending “grip”. Rewind two or three seconds and you see a prone and exposed Thaiday cop a chopping backhand from Jess Bromwich that would have made the great Chris Close proud.

Why? Possibly Bromwich felt Thaiday had targeted his thumb in the tackle? Now, only Thaiday would know whether he did or didn’t, but seriously, is he somehow honour-bound to avoid the injury? That’s like saying it’s wrong to run at Billy Slater’s left shoulder because it’s just coming good.

I can see Wayne Bennett now: “Listen boys, grease on the high spots and no bludging, Oh, and Bellamy just stuck his head in to ask if you could avoid old mate’s knee injury, Cooper’s got a crook sternum and if you can run at Billy’s good shoulder, that’d be great.”

Unable to settle scores in the old-fashioned way, players these days will find other ways to express themselves. And with the boys playing too rough, the referees in this case were weak, compromising the game.

Why not sin-bin them for five minutes? Simple. That will fix it.

This poor excuse for defensive strategy, perfected by the Roosters a few years back, is utter crap and a bigger blight on the game than old Sammy could ever dream up.

Bring back the bin!