This is how the Melbourne Storm should respond to Jordan McLean’s 7 match suspension for his part in the tackle which has left Alex McKinnon in hospital with severe spinal injuries:
“As you are aware we have been considering our legal options in regard to Jordan McLean’s 7 match suspension.
It has become apparent that most within the football community believe the suspension is excessive, or entirely unjustified. Similar incidents occur in most matches and no action is taken.
Sadly, on rare occasions, an otherwise legal tackle can result in spinal injuries as was the case with the tragic injury suffered by Alex McKinnon.
We believe the tribunal deliberated emotionally upon the results of a freak accident, rather than interpreting the actions of Jordan McLean to the letter of the law.
Our legal advice is that an appeal would be successful.
However, we believe the tribunal’s decision was correct. We, as a code, cannot allow this type of accident to unnecessarily put at risk the lives of our players. We will seek to have the law amended such that the actions which lead to this incident are made definitively illegal, irrespective of any injuries that may or may not occur as a result.
We will not be appealing this decision.
Our thoughts remain with Alex and his family.”
The rule as it is written:
Section 15 Player’s Misconduct, Law 1(d) Page 38
If, in any tackle of, or contact with, an opponent that player
is so lifted that he is placed in a position where it is likely
that the first part of his body to make contact with the
ground will be his head or neck (“the dangerous position”),
then that tackle or contact will be deemed to be a
dangerous throw unless, with the exercise of reasonable
care, the dangerous position could not have been avoided.
In other words, the definition of a “dangerous throw” relies upon the ball-carrier being lifted beyond the horizontal such that they are likely to land head first. The act only becomes illegal by the outcome – which is the result of several factors beyond a single player’s control, especially in a group tackle – and not the action itself. It also contains a subjective qualifier.
It would be clearer to implement the variant from the SafePlay code for junior rugby league. This would outlaw any attempt to lift a player into a potentially dangerous position.
The Code: (2.3) NO VERTICAL LIFT IN A TACKLE IS PERMITTED
Application: Vertical lifting in a tackle is an infringement.
No defender(s), during the course of a tackle, are permitted to
vertically lift the ball-carrier. If the possibility of a vertical lift
occurs, i.e. one or both feet of the ball-carrier have been lifted
off the ground, the referee must immediately blow the whistle
to prevent the tackle from continuing. (This is not to be
confused with a tackle that, in the same motion, “knocks” a
player off his feet).
If you believe borrowing an interpretation from junior rugby is soft, feel free to explain why using manipulative holds and throws is tough, or necessary. Surely, dragging or knocking a player to the ground is a more impressive feat of strength. Alternatively, the referee can adjudge an upright tackle.