Paul Wellens this week warned of the dangers of a “trial by social media” after a five-match ban given to Saints forward Morgan Knowles that has prompted fierce debate within the sport.
The England enforcer was punished for the dangerous contact that left Wigan forward Mike Cooper with a ruptured ACL that will rule him out until 2024.
The former Warrington man’s knee collapsed inwards after a lateral contact from Knowles in an incident that looked awful. It was hardly Knowles’ first offence either, and thus many wanted the book thrown at him, the most vocal critics - as ever - residing behind the safety of their computer screens.
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“He doesn’t go out on the field to injure players,” said Saints boss Wellens at his weekly press conference.
“I came off Twitter 12 months ago for good reason. Social media gives everyone a voice to give their opinion. It is important that it does not become a trial by social media.”
Yes the social media cesspit is increasingly best avoided, and the anonymous angry mob wanting Knowles’ blood is unlikely to have bolstered his defence.
It wasn’t just the keyboard warriors either, with Huddersfield winger Jermaine McGillvary tweeting “these tackles need to be outlawed..absolutely disgraceful.” The former England winger was sidelined for six months by a similar contact last season and should be listened to.
But what led to the lengthier than normal ban (grade D charges are usually 2-3 games) is a point of even greater debate. Essentially the five-match ban was due to the severity of Cooper’s injury.
RFL guidelines dictate that “if a player sustains a serious injury which results in a period of time away from the game as a result of misconduct this may mean the grading is increased.”
So if Cooper had got better news from the knee specialist, then Knowles may also have been back sooner. This is a pretty dangerous way of making disciplinary decisions. Linking severity of injury with degree of intent is an almost impossible road to go down.
Saints fans were pretty nonplussed too - given Warrington’s Gil Dudson was given the same five-game punishment for a punch which could not have in any way been accidental, but did not leave his opponent with serious injury.
Speaking of social media, former prop Nick Fozzard was not met with the warmest of responses when he tweeted a link to an interview with the Daily Mail, in which he discusses his reasons for joining the lawsuit of former players seeking damages from governing bodies for brain injuries suffered playing rugby.
Fozzard was a no-nonsense forward whose critics will say inflicted as many injuries as he suffered. After his horrifying recent diagnosis of early-onset dementia, the 45-year old says he is joining the legal action to provide for his family when he is no longer here.
Some - dependent again on how much credence you give to those on the internet who would never deliver their words in person - have criticised as “double standards” this move from a player who dished out so many huge hits to his opponents. But there cannot be anyone who wouldn’t wish the 45-year old love and support in the horrible health battle that lies ahead.
And here’s the thing for anyone doubting members of this lawsuit when they say they were unaware of the health dangers from playing this brutal sport. Sure, most must be aware there are big physical risks when they start playing. Rugby after all is hardly tiddlywinks. Yet nobody, upon embarking on a rugby career at any level, would have thought that playing a game could lead to a life-changing, debilitating disease like dementia, from which people do not recover.
And that makes this legal case so significant. If anything is proven, it could change everything, regardless of debate about motive of those involved.
On the field, Wigan’s Easter derby win over St Helens is already in the shadows of their next clash with Warrington, according to boss Matty Peet.
The Warriors made a big statement by beating their fierce rivals and we will learn even more about the Challenge Cup winners’ credentials when they face Daryl Powell’s table-toppers this week.
“The players are more excited about this game than the fact that they beat Saints,” Peet told The Sportsman this week.
“It’s going to be a great game, a big test. They are the form team of the competition, an outstanding playing group with a really experienced coaching staff who have done it all.
I don’t think anyone in the game was in any doubt that Daryl would get them playing at some point. Massive credit to him, the board and the playing group.”
Peet has also highlighted the recent Betfred Super League attendances as “really encouraging for the sport” ahead of next week’s vote on IMG’s proposals to “reimagine rugby league”.
The 83,357 fans watching the six Rivals Round games was a record.
“Everyone has raised the bar this year which is pleasing and encouraging for the future for all of us involved in the sport,” Peet added.
Amidst the positivity though, one big club is in desperate trouble.
Hull FC have had a horrible start and can be thankful that the only club below them in the table are even worse. The Black and Whites are four points clear of Wakefield but warmed up for this weekend’s trip to Leeds with a 40-0 derby humiliation to on-song Hull KR.
“Hull have had a difficult time of it but they are putting a lot of energy into games,” Leeds boss Rohan Smith said in his pre-match press call ahead of a game against his uncle Tony, the Hull boss.
“When teams try really hard, things can turn.”
On top of the Super League action this week, the Betfred Wheelchair Super League returns to The Sportsman.
On Saturday we will stream a triple-header live from Birmingham in the sport’s first ever Central Inclusion round. Our coverage gets underway at 11:45am.
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