Inside RL: Disciplinary system in need of shake-up – Smith

Leeds Rhinos' captain Kevin Sinfield.

Leeds Rhinos' captain Kevin Sinfield.

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IT SEEMS everybody is agreed the Grade C charge levied against Kevin Sinfield for butting Luke Dorn was an absolute disgrace and the RFL’s match review panel should hang their heads in shame.

Unfortunately, that’s as far as the consensus goes. Half the sport believes Sinfield has got off lightly and the rest are arguing he should have faced a much lesser charge.

Sinfield was sent-off six minutes from time following the clash with Castleford Tigers’ full-back. Rhinos led 24-18 at that stage, but the visitors scored a converted try to equalise and the points were shared.

It was Sinfield’s 533rd senior game, in a career which began in 1997 and his first red card. He has never previously faced a disciplinary charge.

Sinfield, awarded an MBE earlier this year, is a player who divides opinion.

He is a Rhinos legend, yet outside Leeds, many fans feel he is over-rated.

Actually, it’s hard to think of many more influential players in the Super League era and he can be considered one of Leeds’ three greatest of all-time, alongside John Holmes and Lewis Jones.

He is Leeds’ and Super League’s record goals and points scorer, has skippered his club for more than a decade and lifted the Grand Final trophy a record six times.

What, though, does that have to do with his head-butt charge? Good question. According to the antis, absolutely nothing.

Their argument is he should be judged on the incident – and there’s no doubt Sinfield did lead with his head in what was obviously a loss of control – rather than the player(s) involved.

Sinfield’s supporters, on the other hand, say he should be given credit for the fact he had played so many games without a previous blemish.

The problem with the current disciplinary system is there’s no grey area. Sinfield butted Dorn so the choices facing the review committee were Grade A or B (resulting in a ban of 0-two matches) if they thought he had made light contact, Grade C (two to three games) for full contact and Grade E or F (anything above four) if he made ‘full contact in an aggressive and violent manner’.

That leaves the panel no room to take into account things like his previous clean record and the fact Dorn was uninjured – though they may well have had that in mind when they opted for a C grading.

Upset Leeds’ chief executive Gary Hetherington has pointed to Hull KR’s Kris Welham being punished with only a penalty when he butted Dorn in a game at Craven Park earlier in the year.

The same referee, Ben Thaler, was in charge and the match review panel decided to issue a Grade A charge, so Welham escaped a ban.

A suspension is appropriate because butting is a nasty offence and, particularly in a televised game, it casts the sport in a poor light. On the other hand, Sinfield lost it for a moment, has a previously clean record, was red carded and no injury was caused.

The grading put his offence on par with some which have led to serious injury, to Castleford’s Kirk Dixon and Featherstone’s Tangi Ropati for example.

A two-match ban for Sinfield was on the harsh side of fair, for the above reasons, but a system which takes into account all factors – for and against – would be an advance on the current format.

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SO FAREWELL then Bradford Bulls, relegated to the Kingstone Press Championship for next year with six rounds of the current season remaining.

Bulls still insist the six-point deduction imposed for entering administration was unfair, but they have been relegated on merit, or lack of it. Even with six points restored they would be seven adrift of safety and they have a much worse for and against than anybody above them in the table.

It is a shame for a club who were trail-blazers at the start of the Super League era and won the World Club Challenge as recently as 2006.

However, the club’s board lost much sympathy when they made the decision to sack coach Francis Cummins, who deserved a chance to try and rebuild next year for a promotion push.

Bulls are planning to bounce straight back. They will remain full-time and already key men Dale Ferguson, above, and Lee Gaskell have committed for next season.

It’s not going to be easy though.

They will need to finish in the top-four of the Championship, against what’s likely to be strong opposition from Leigh, Featherstone, Halifax and London.

They will then need to finish above at least one of the bottom four Super League teams after the competitions split.

That will be a significant step up, after regular meetings with semi-professional opposition, so Bulls fans shouldn’t count of their spell in the Championship being a one-season sabbatical.

Jack Walker.

Talking points from Leeds Rhinos v Huddersfield Giants