Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
Shoulder charges continue to divide the rugby league community with North Queensland skipper Johnathan Thurston claiming fans will turn away in droves if the controversial tackle is banned.
While Newcastle coach Brian Smith said he "actively encouraged" his players to avoid the tactic, Australian and Queensland halfback Thurston claimed officials risked turning the sport into "touch footy" by getting rid of the charge.
"If the NRL bans shoulder charges then I may as well escort fans from games myself, because that is exactly what will happen - our great game will lose supporters," wrote Thurston in Wednesday's Townsville Bulletin.
"Rugby union has outlawed the tackle, but I truly believe following that move would be a mistake by the NRL's people in power.
"Taking that weapon from Bulldog Sonny Bill Williams' arsenal would be like telling me I can no longer throw cut-out passes.
"In the stands, the atmosphere in the stadium lifts considerably when the teams are throwing themselves at one another, so it's clear the fans love it too.
"If we ban everything that could lead to an injury then we may as well just start playing touch footy."
The shoulder charge has quickly become the hottest topic of debate in the NRL this season after a series of incidents in the opening two rounds.
South Sydney star Craig Wing underwent shoulder surgery after being injured by a shoulder charge from Sydney Rooster Riley Brown just minutes into the season.
Following that controversial hit, the NRL warned players it would be more vigilant with shoulder charges where more than one player was involved in a tackle.
Brisbane fullback Karmichael Hunt will front the NRL judiciary after a shoulder charge gone wrong on Rooster Braith Anasta, while Cowboys centre Ash Graham has already been suspended for one game after a similar hit on Wests Tigers captain Brett Hodgson.
Afterwards Hodgson, who suffered concussion and remains in some doubt for Sunday's match with the Bulldogs, became the first prominent player to advocate outlawing the shoulder charge.
Knights coach Smith said he believed banning the tackle would not be any great loss to the game, adding he considered it a low percentage play.
"I actively encourage our players not to do it because it's got miss tackle and offload written all over it," Smith told Sydney radio 2KY.
"Our game is so tough, and our players are subjected to enormous physical demands that I don't think losing it out of our game would be any sort of great loss to that aspect.
"Players are not going to turn soft because there is no shoulder charge and it is wreaking havoc.
"At the moment it might be a bit of a knee jerk reaction ... but I think it is time to have a real good look at it."