What a fine web they weave

If you wanted an example of how commercial imperatives have over taken the concepts of fair play in major sport you need go no further than last night’s second state of Origin clash.

The snarling beast. (Photo courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald)

The whole debacle had its genesis in the ridiculous decision to exonerate Jarrod Hayne for his head butt on Billy Slater last weekend.  The rules of the game are fairly clear on the legality of striking the head of an opponent with one’s forehead and in the past players have served long suspensions for it. 

In the game it’s seen as a “dog act” up there with biting and grabbing testicles. 

But with NSW staring down the barrel and Hayne a current media darling and marketable commodity it seems to me officialdom chose a route of expedience to include him in the game.  The minute he admitted to the judiciary he had head butted an opponent it was all over as far as the rules go. 

Presumably Hayne was viewed by the pro-NSW judicial panel as one of the few players with the size and speed to trouble the Queenslanders.  (For mine he lacks heart and won’t be a big match player until he stops sooking every time he resents a tackle).

Hayne’s subsequent defense that he did not strike Slater hard is irrelevant – and the ripple effects from his exoneration could now haunt rugby league for some time.    

Because last night, on the biggest stage and with millions watching, we saw Luke O’Donnell twice head butt Dave Taylor in the midst of a melee sparked by O’Donnell’s vicious spear tackle on Darius Boyd. 

What a conundrum.  Hayne was on the field because expedience had overtaken the rules.  Now O’Donnell sees red and does the same in front of millions, many of them folk who watch the rugby league product only three times a year. 

Talk about being between a rock and a hard place.  If action were to be taken on O’Donnell officialdom opens the door to accusation of double standards.  Fail to act and rugby league gets a bloody nose (again) in the public eye (and yes I count myself as one of the many parents whose children participates in another code because I’ll not allow them to be subjected to the random thuggery that goes with the rugby league culture). 

A middle path has been trod.  O’Donnell will be suspended for 3 weeks for his ugly spear tackle (and even that seems lenient given the severity of the incident).  And no mention of head butts.

Expediency and desperation to even up the State of Origin series for a deciding third game has a dark down side.  It has legitimized the head butt, probably at all levels of the game.  The next person to face any censure for this ugly thuggery can now just point to footage of both Hayne and O’Donnell as their precedent. 

Really, the head butting issue it’s the tip of the iceberg on rugby league’s morass when one considers the endemic cheating of the Melbourne Storm and the continued absurdity of New Limited’s conflict of interest as it funnels millions out of the game which could be spent on player salaries so they wouldn’t join the AFL.

But one would think they could start somewhere …..


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