Off the Wall

At this time each year the former NSW and Kangaroos player, Tommy Raudonikis, makes his annual appeal for "the biff" to be returned to the State of Origin series.

During his long career - including a test career stretching from 1971 to 1980, including one as captain, Tommy asked for no quarter and gave none.

For years he has been despairing that the game has become far too "soft" - thanks to changes to the rules, and the way referees and the judiciary process operate.

He wants Origin to be an exception - so that the normally more liberal interpretation during Origin games will see a return to some of the blood and guts games of eras past.

His call has largely fallen on deaf ears...the third Origin match in 2009 being a partial exception.

I grew up in an era where we had limited television coverage, and officials certainly had no access to video replays. Many a first grade match I saw, as well as interstate and test matches, included at least one good old fashion stoush.

There were plenty of all in brawls, but the good referees of the time - such as Col Pearce, Don Lancashire and John Gosher - prided themselves in their ability to keep matters under control.

It must be said there was a period when on field violence got right out of control...the worst occurring in the early 1980's when State of Origin was entrenching itself in the life of the game.

The most notorious was Les Boyd who was suspended for 12 months after badly smashing the jaw of Darryl "The Big Marn" Brohman. Just four matches after his return he was suspended for 15 months after being found guilty of gouging the eye of an opponent. But he was not alone, and names like Bob Cooper come to mind.

The then rugby league supremo , Kevin Humphreys, reacted to the outcry against violence by ensuring the then judiciary chairman, Jim Comans, a prominent Sydney lawyer, dished out tough penalties. The era of excessive foul play did not last long as a result.

But, as Tommy reminds us, it is certainly arguable that we have gone to the other extreme. Some of the so called "incidents" which result in players being put on report, and suspended, are really tame, and ought to be regarded as part and parcel of a body contact sport.

The reason why even the allegedly more tolerant approach by referees in Origin matches had not put more than a touch of starch into most contests is that players don't want suspensions, or demerit points, to impact on their own NRL participation, or the status of their team in the premiership.

But that factor will be less significant come Origin one next Wednesday.  There are no less than five players for whom a suspension, or demerit points, will mean not as much as a fig.

The Melbourne Storm players might just be tempted to take up Tommy's challenge. One, Brett White, had no hesitation in doing so last year when a suspension would have really had an impact.

He will have even less inhibition - if that is possible - this season now that the Storm cannot gain any premiership points.

It adds another dimension to a series that has any number of intriguing aspects already.

And thanks to David Gallop's unintended consequences, Tommy Raudonikis may well get his long held wish fulfilled!

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