OPINION: Alex McKinnon incident unfortunate consequence of cannonball tackle rule

The serious injury to Newcastle forward, Alex McKinnon, is an unfortunate consequence of the new rule prohibiting the third man in a tackle attacking the knees of a ball carrier.

Three Storm players tackled McKinnon in the match on Monday night, with one attempting to lift the 22-year-old’s leg and turn him, seeking to force him to the ground, or at least prevent him playing the ball quickly.

McKinnon dropped his head in the tackle, meaning it was the first point of contact with the ground.

Had there been no rule preventing the third man attacking the knees, it is likely he would have gone into the tackle around the legs, rather than join his other two partners in an unstable and potentially dangerous dance with McKinnon.

Put crudely, even cruelly, the NRL must ask what is more crucial: protecting a player’s knees, or his spine?

Blanket rules are vulnerable to unfortunate consequences, the better option being to allow the referee to punish low tackles which are dangerous and allow those which are not.

McKinnon’s coach, Wayne Bennett, was a member of the rules committee which voted in the new rule which has achieved its purpose: faster play-the-balls.

A distressed Bennett, who would opt for a healthy McKinnon over a thousand quick rucks, may dispute the notion that the new rule had anything to do with the injury.

But there can be no doubt the basket of new laws has created some spectacular football and ingenious plays.

The no time-off rule when the ball is out of play in the final five minutes has created some thrilling finishes and innovative acts.

Storm captain Cameron Smith stab-kicked from the halfway restart after the Panthers levelled the scoreline in round two, forcing a knock-on and a scrum.

Half Cooper Cronk edged his team ahead with a field goal from the subsequent set but the more difficult and rarely seen kick was Smith’s grass-cutter which bounced wickedly into the fumbling arms of a Penrith forward on the sideline.

The Panthers responded with a clever short kick-off of their own, drawing a penalty for accidental offside.

As half Peter Wallace was setting up for a long-range penalty goal, Cronk approached the referee and asked whether there was a rule against a rugby union style line-out lift to prevent the ball going over the cross-bar.

The referee told Cronk that once the ball is kicked, it is in play.

The half immediately positioned himself in front of the posts with the tall winger Sisa Waqa and fullback Billy Slater either side, with the object of them propelling him into the air to bat the ball forward.

A Penrith player read their plan and was poised to race through and scoop the ball up for a try but the kick fell low and wide of the posts.

Referees are also adjudicating the 10 metres more accurately and with greater consistency. The NRL track their positions on a grid, allowing them a half-metre margin of error.

Rather than referees standing back 13 metres, or a thin eight metres, almost every ruck in all games played in the first three rounds has seen them stand the 10 metres required in the rule book.

You will still hear the crowd cry “get ‘em back the 10” but it has less meaning now.

The pocket referee and his partner also rotate more, meaning the end of the system where the referee standing at the ruck moves at the next set of six to adjudicate the 10 metres, meaning he stays with one team for extended periods.

Coaches can no longer protest they are stuck with a referee who stands back 13 metres, while his colleague positions himself only eight metres.

The new rule of a zero tackle on the 20-metre line following a kick going dead has had less impact.

While teams are less inclined to kick the ball over the goal line to prevent it going to brilliant fullbacks, they are not running it on the last as much as could be expected.

The Broncos scored all their tries against the Bulldogs from this tactic but their three are one-quarter of the 12 scored in the first three rounds from 127 runs on the last tackle.

Sportsdata reports there were 11 tries from 126 runs at the same time last year.

There have only been four tries from 83 zero tackle restarts, with Bennett’s Knights scoring two.


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