Phil Clarke looks at the recent red card incidents in Super League and what can be done to prevent them becoming regular occurrences...
Last Updated: 13/03/13 12:25pm
What do you need to do in a game of rugby league to get sent off? Does a red card ruin a game?
Last weekend saw some referees dealing cards like a croupier in a casino. Two red and two yellow at the KC Stadium and a yellow (pulled out by mistake) followed by a red at the Widnes match. They've caused a lot of debate and so I thought I'd add my opinion.
I'd like to begin by talking about football. Manchester United had a player sent off last week in a Champions League game with Real Madrid and most of the football people I met said that it had ruined the game. Whether the referee's decision was right or wrong is irrelevant at this point, I'm not a believer that a team needs all of its players on the field to win or be competitive. Widnes' fight back against the Bulls, trailing by 16 points and having a man less for the whole of the second half, is one bit of proof in rugby league.
The same goes for Great Britain's performance 10 years ago against Australia when they lost by just four points in the last few minutes after Adrian Morley was sent off in the first tackle of the match. From what I saw, Manchester United had chances in the latter stages of the game to score and progress to the next round. Having one player less didn't ruin the excitement, drama or competitive nature of the game and it's a myth put forward by the supporters and coaches of the losing team when they have a man sent off.
The incident in which Gareth Hock was dismissed also has a relevance to football. Do we want to see players swearing at an official? I know that rugby league has its problems as a sport, but abusing the officials isn't one of them yet.
I think that most people accept that if someone hits their thumb with a hammer there might be a shout or swear word in reaction to the pain, anger and disappointment. Therefore it's not surprising when a player makes a mistake or sees a try awarded which he doesn't agree with that there could be an initial reaction. We hope that most officials are wise enough to sensibly move away from the player and allow him to calm down. It's about managing the situation. But if a player approaches a player a second time, as I believe happened with Gareth Hock, then his behavior cannot be excused. We need to do everything that we can to maintain a respect for authority within the game.
So if swearing at an official gets you sent off, what do you think about two players 'trading punches' as it is often described? Brian Carney and I disagree on this point. I think that they must be sent off from the field with a red card if both have willingly engaged in a fist fight. But that then begs the question about the definition of 'trading punches'?
I think that we would all accept that two players swinging their arms at each other would fall into this category, and I have seen this happen in three games so far this season. On each occasion the ref has shown them the red card. So on the basis of consistency; I hope that similar offences are dealt with in the same manner this year. At the very least, the yellow card is a 'must'.
But what do we expect the player to do if an opponent starts to repeatedly punch him? Is it a form of self-defence to punch back and protect yourself?
This becomes a very difficult area for the referee to manage. Most players are in an aggressive state and it doesn't take much for the fuse to be lit. When does a skirmish become an incident that warrants a red card? It used to be said that retaliation is worse than the original offence, but I am not sure I agree with that. It is possible that a team could deliberately attack an opposing player with the intention of getting him sent off. If he fights back when attacked, he could be given a red card.
I know that I am supposed to have an 'expert opinion' on issues like this but I am more confused now than when I began to write this article!
It does appear that most of us accept that a third player running in to join an incident where two players are trading punches will be dealt with very seriously. We know that tempers will boil over from time to time, but it's important that we try to avoid the 'all-in brawl' when most of the players join in the fighting that looks like a 1950's western bar fight. Thankfully this does not happen as often as it used to in previous eras.
In general rugby league has made massive improvements in terms of on-field discipline in my life time. It used to be common for one player to be sent off whilst another one was carried off at the same time.
I don't want to see the game losing any of the aggression which makes it so appealing to so many of its supporters but we must move with the times and do everything that we can to maintain the highest level of respect for authority.