THERE’S A thin line in rugby league between a hero and zero.
A few weeks ago Rangi Chase was being applauded for one of the most amazing pieces of skill seen on a rugby league field. Now he finds himself condemned as having committed what was among the code’s most brutal acts.
There was a world of difference between the moment of magic – a pass to himself and then round-the-man offload – which created a try for Salford Red Devils against Hull and the dangerous throw which left Huddersfield Giants’ Brett Ferres facing a long spell on the sidelines.
From being a player everyone wanted to watch, Chase suddenly finds himself in the early stages of a seven-game ban, which will mean he misses almost a quarter of the entire season.
Though Chase pleaded not guilty, his “tackle” provoked widespread anger, as well as disappointment that a rugby league player would commit such an act. Leeds Rhinos boss Brian McDermott, responding to a question, described that sort of challenge as “disgusting” and “cowardly” and said he would drop any of his players who did something similar.
Presumably, he would not have to as said player – and Leeds don’t have a track record for that sort of thing – would be suspended by the RFL’s disciplinary. With a seven-game ban, the panel have set their stall out and made it clear so-called cannonball tackles are unacceptable. It is now up to everybody involved in the sport – coaches, players, match officials and administrators – to make sure attacks on an opponent’s limbs are removed from the game, before somebody’s career is ended.
The match review panel – which charged Chase with a Grade E offence – and disciplinary committee have sent out a strong message, but they need to be consistent. There have been suggestions the long ban has robbed fans of the chance to watch one of the sport’s most entertaining players, but, while Super League needs players of Chase’s quality on the field, player welfare has to come first.
Ferres suffered a serious ankle injury and is on the long-term casualty list, which has robbed Huddersfield of a key man and must be the main concern. It is unusual for a coach to speak out as strongly as McDermott did last week. The Leeds boss has his critics, but his passion for the game and concern for its long-term welfare is not open to doubt.
Of course, Rhinos have had their own issues with player behaviour recently, of the off-field kind.
If you live in a glass house, it’s unwise to throw stones, but Rhinos’ handling of the Zak Hardaker situation has been almost spot-on.
They made one mistake, by announcing Hardaker and club-mate Elliot Minchella had been released without charge after being interviewed by police over an early-morning assault in Leeds two months ago. In fact, they had avoided a charge after admitting the offence and agreeing to apologise and pay their victim compensation, something Rhinos’ statement omitted.
Other than that, Leeds’ management – McDermott in particular – have been open and honest about the whole business and they reached the right solution, by dropping Hardaker for one game and handing out a range of punishments to the five players involved, but stopping short of sacking them.
Effectively, all that would have done was weaken Leeds and strengthen at least one of their rivals. Hardaker is a quality player and though the salary cap would have been an issue, there aren’t many teams that would not be interested in signing him.
Rhinos have stood by their man, but made it clear he is in – using his own, slightly ironic, choice of words – the last chance saloon.
He obviously has aspects of his lifestyle he needs to sort out, but it’s better to support someone through that, than to cast them aside.
Hardaker is actually a likeable character, a long way from his current image. He is still young, at 23 and success came quickly to him.
If he sorts himself out, he has the ability to become one of the sport’s best players. That’s too good an opportunity to waste.