It’s easy to be outraged at seeing rugby league’s most exciting young talent banned for a third of the season, but what else could the RFL have done with Will Pryce?
Super League’s poster boy carries the hopes of a sport desperate to break through in World Cup year, but will instead serve a massive ten-match suspension for his horror tackle against Hull FC.
Yet in a season already overshadowed by some excessive bans dished out by the RFL’s Disciplinary Panel, this was not one of them.
There was no malice, no pre-meditation, no intention to hurt, but ultimately no option for the RFL. The tackle - a dangerous throw that violently tipped Conor Wynne on his head, was an awful, messy, horrific-looking accident that could have ended the Hull man’s career. If any tackle merited a lengthy suspension then this was it. And Pryce knows that. Indeed he knew it straight away, shaking the player’s hand, and apologizing immediately. He just got it badly wrong.
Will’s father, the Great Britain legend Leon Pryce told me at the weekend, even before the panel’s verdict, that his son simply had to learn and would do so from this, the first major setback of his promising young career.
The frustration as a league fan is seeing the sport deprived for a lengthy period of one of its most marketable assets. But that kind of thing hardly comes into the equation when working out what punishment fits a crime. And nor should it. And nor should the severity or otherwise of an injury incurred. The fact that Wynne is okay has no bearing on what could have happened.
I’ve been hugely frustrated by what has happened to the sport I love this season, with any dangerous or mistimed contact walloped with a huge suspension, ultimately changing the face of a game that always carries huge risk when played with the speed and physicality that it is.
But you can’t lump this Pryce ban in with that argument. This was a really bad one that could have carried serious and life-changing consequences and had to be dealt with accordingly. Especially given Pryce had committed a similar offence in an Academy game within the last year.
Away from the disciplinary, and having used last week’s column to compare the respective greatness of Leeds and St Helens, we reconvene a week on with Saints having lost for the first time this season and the Rhinos losing their head coach after another awful defeat.
Saints becoming their first ever Super League victims of Toulouse was a result nobody saw coming. Not even Sylvain Houles himself, the Toulouse coach admitted. An off day for the champions no doubt, but I’m convinced this also marks a sign of what the French side are capable of and I remain as confident as I was before the season started that they will not be relegated.
Having worked with Toulouse during their Championship promotion season last year, what was evident was both the passion and strength of backing for the project they have in place. A few bad results won’t have changed that and beating the best team in the competition is the most timely of boosts. I felt the Toulouse side that romped to the Championship title would actually have fared pretty well in Super League last year.
Their start to a first ever Super League season could not have been much worse though, with star man Mark Kheirallah and captain Johnathon Ford both leaving the club following their stance on covid vaccinations. No unvaccinated player can play in France, and Toulouse saw their pre-season disrupted hugely because of it.
No bad start is down to one reason alone, but this has been a pretty big one. Every single play in training went through those two, and for the first month of the season the team has clearly been lost, drilled with old plays, but with a completely new playmaking team now in charge of them. A bit like Spurs losing Kane and Son on the eve of a Premier League season and still being expected to bang in the goals from week one. Now they have their new axis making their own calls, I’m expecting Toulouse to surprise a few more teams.
The big news story of the week saw Richard Agar walk away as head coach at Leeds. The writing could not have been any bolder on the wall, and when Agar left the press conference room at Salford’s AJ Bell Stadium last Friday night, it was clear that he was on his way. As I wrote at the time I can’t remember seeing a sporting coach so bemused at the lack of response he was able to muster from his players.
With five defeats from six games, Agar’s expensively-assembled squad needs to step up and take responsibility for costing their coach his job. The 50-year-old was visibly devastated in giving up his dream role, but knew this was the only hope to rescue a season that promised so much before the nightmare set it.
Even chief executive Gary Hetherington admits they have no plan in place now, and that he was not expecting to have a vacancy for head coach so early in the season. And of the options offered up as a successor, all to me look like non-starters. Betfred’s shortest odds choice Danny Ward is a former Rhinos favourite, but his experience as coach of London is unlikely to be seen as sufficient to come in and fix this sizeable mess. Brian McDermott has told me he would never go back, Hull KR coach Tony Smith is likely to share that mindset, and Smith’s assistant – the Leeds legend Danny McGuire is still learning his trade. There is a bit of noise behind McGuire’s credential’s giving his legendary status at Leeds, but for me it feels far too early. All of which could see Hetherington on a flight out to Australia for a few weeks.