Cameron Smith has identified a number of reasons why players have adopted modified tackling techniques in the modern game, while wondering if their infiltration into the sport can be stopped.
Over the weekend, hip and cannonball tackle once again entered the rugby league lexicon, as Jackson Hastings broke his ankle and Joe Tapine came up against a late tackle around his knee.
Patrick Carrigan walked into a tackle as the Wests Tigers’ No.13 third man and dropped all of his body weight onto the back of his legs causing Hastings to collapse to the ground and writhe in pain .
He was helped out onto the pitch and was sent for X-rays later that night which revealed he had suffered a season-ending lower leg injury.
Carrigan was taken straight to court and faces a prolonged spell on the sidelines.
Meanwhile, Tapine was also tackled by a third man – Gold Coast’s Aaron Booth – during the Raiders’ clash with the Titans on Saturday. The No.9 speared through the legs of the Kiwi striker who then got up and threw a punch in the ensuing scrum which saw him doomed.
Booth was not penalized during the match for focusing on Tapine’s exposed legs and was not even cited by the Match Review Committee.
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Smith identified why the NRL is currently witnessing a plethora of ongoing tackles with a third man joining late, when he said how the increased body size, improved offloading ability and lack of reward for tackles around the legs were the key factors behind the change.
“I’ll tell you a few reasons why footballers are told to defend [like they do],” he said SENBreakfast with Vossy & Brandy.
“The height difference – the height of people playing rugby league has changed the way you attack.
“Back then, one-on-one tackles were more popular because a ball carrier was easier to knock down than they are now,” he said.
Smith went on to explain how the dying art of a player cutting off an opponent’s legs was due to the resulting ball game being far too fast.
“The classic tackle was around the laces and you would stand up and clap a good leg tackle,” Smith said.
“But if you see a classic leg tackle now, as soon as that ball carrier hits the ground, the referee yells at the defender to get down and let go.
“So players are hesitant to go first in the legs because they know they don’t get any rewards for it.
“They were trained by the referees, and I guess the referees were trained by the game, not to reward leg tackles.”
Players’ ability to offload has also resulted in the increased need to lock the ball down.
To do this, Smith pointed out that a player must simply “catch” the ball carrier before his teammates arrive to complete the tackle.
“Now it’s about locking the ball down. The second man comes in to help stop the momentum and the third man comes in to cut the legs and put them on the ground,” he said.
“You tackle up high first, around the ball, so there’s no offloading.
“At the time, it was a real art. There were probably a handful of players who were good at it and could make contact, turn and offload. Whereas almost any striker can do that in the game now,” he continued.
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The explosiveness of current players means it’s important to isolate defenders in the line and look for them to make one-on-one tackles in the plane of every plane of attack.
“If you have an individual opportunity as a ball carrier, that’s what you’re looking for now in the modern game. Nine times out of 10, the ball carrier will break that tackle,” Smith said.
However, Greg Alexander argued that if the need to have multiple people in a tackle persists, perhaps the way to stamp out the incoming third man could be for the officials to call a stoppage of the tackle early.
“When you have two players holding the player, the target area for the third defender is negligible,” explained Alexander.
“There is very little room for him to come in and make that tackle. So, I don’t know if we eradicate it and call ‘on hold’ sooner.