Peter Smith: Innocent parties not helped by long bans issued by RFL

Ben Westwood stops Danny McGuire's run.
Ben Westwood stops Danny McGuire's run.
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THE SPORT has not gone soft, nor is it full of thugs.

Red cards are a rarity in the modern game, particularly at Super League level.

Brad Singleton.

Brad Singleton.

After eight full rounds there has not yet been a sending-off in the top flight which is obviously a good thing, though sin-binnings are relatively common.

There were four yellow cards shown in round seven and five last weekend.

Yet this season two players – Leeds Rhinos’ Brad Singleton and Brett Ferres – have been banned for six games after being called before the Rugby Football League’s disciplinary committee.

Both players pleaded guilty, though Ferres felt he should have faced a lesser grading than E, which gives the judiciary the option of anything from a four- to a six-game suspension.

Brett Ferres is sin-binned.

Brett Ferres is sin-binned.

Neither case went to appeal and there could be few arguments over the severity of the punishment, though Singleton does not have a bad record and the incident involving Ferres was a case of a tackle going wrong rather than any malicious intent.

Ferres was sin-binned by referee Ben Thaler for a ‘crusher’ challenge on Oliver Gildart, who is facing up to three months on the sidelines due to a serious back injury.

To their credit, though they revealed the extent of the injury before the hearing, Wigan did not kick up a fuss about the tackle and let justice take its course. Referee James Child placed Singleton on report for his hit on Catalans’ Greg Bird, whose coach Laurent Frayssinous said afterwards he felt the Rhinos man should have been sent off, but did not produce a card.

Last week the boot was on the other foot. Rhinos lost Liam Sutcliffe at the end of the first set when he was concussed in a high tackle by Ben Westwood following a kick.

Child’s near-side touch judge spotted the incident and recommended the referee issue a yellow card. Westwood was charged with a grade D offence and subsequently banned for four matches.

It’s not easy to understand why that foul was deemed two games less serious than the Singleton incident, but consistency is not something the sport’s disciplinary process is famous for. Long bans probably are a deterrent, but the most effective way to clamp down on foul play is by dealing with it at the time. It’s a difficult job for officials, who will be condemned if they incorrectly send a player off, but referees also have a duty of care to players and the game.

Clearly, based on the length of the subsequent suspension, Singleton, Ferres and Westwood should all have been dismissed. Rugby league has an image problem and incidents like the ones mentioned do not help. After a high, swinging arm in a recent televised game led to a yellow card, a senior and very experienced sports journalist took to social media to express his shock that such a challenge resulted in only 10 minutes off the field.

He compared that with hefty bans handed out in football. As a casual viewer he was unfamiliar with the disciplinary process, but that is an indication of the damage such incidents can do to the sport.

Interestingly, both Child and Thaler did not referee in Super League the week after the game which led to a long ban. The RFL would not confirm Thaler had been dropped for failing to send Ferres off, describing his subsequent appointment in the Kingstone Press Championship as “rotation”.

It may have been simply that, but if he was demoted, why not say so? One of the biggest complaints players and coaches have about referees is the fact they are not accountable. Perhaps they are, but it is being kept in-house. Child will be in charge of Leeds’ game at Hull tomorrow. One problem with bans after the fact is the innocent party gets no benefit.

Catalans, Wigan or Leeds don’t gain from the punishment imposed on Singleton, Ferres and Westwood, but teams playing them in future weeks will.

The suggestion bans should be as long as the time out caused through injury is impractical, but one match of any suspension should be served against the team who were victims of the original offence.