MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s National Rugby League needs to be more transparent about how it punishes players who cause serious injury, said Newcastle Knights coach Wayne Bennett, who lost forward Alex McKinnon to a broken neck last week.
The NRL handed Melbourne Storm prop Jordan McLean a seven-week ban for his part in a three-man tackle that left 22-year-old McKinnon in hospital facing the prospect that he might never walk again.
Newcastle slammed the NRL’s handling of the case, questioning how the other two Storm players were not brought to book for the tackle.
Local media and pundits have also queried the punishment, comparing it with the seven-week ban given to Knights prop Kade Snowden last year for a shoulder charge that broke an opponent’s jaw.
Bennett said the whole judicial process needed to be put under the microscope, and for rugby league to discuss the relationship between the severity of an injury and the severity of the punishment.
“Maybe it’s been the smoking gun out there that no one really talks about,” he told reporters in Sydney on Friday.
”But it needs to be talked about. We need to make a decision as a sport just how much does injury influence judiciary decisions.
”It has never really been had. It’s been all indoors and behind smokescreens.
”But now it’s out there and I think it’s time to have a debate and recognize if that’s what we want or don’t want.
“It’s a grey area, because it’s not defined anywhere so it’s part of the inconsistencies.”
McLean was suspended after being found guilty of a “dangerous throw” tackle, having lifted McKinnon while two of his team mates were already grappling to bring him down.
McKinnon, whose arms were pinned back, had nothing to break his fall and bore the weight of three players driving him into the turf.
Though McKinnon’s plight has horrified Australia’s rugby league community, McLean has also garnered sympathy from fellow players, who have noted similar lifting tackles often go unpunished in the NRL.
Sports medicine experts have also called on the NRL to review “third-man-in” tackles, when a third player rushes in when a ball-carrier is already being handled by two team mates.
”We’ll have to change the way we look at some of these things,“ Bennett said. ”There are a whole range of issues that need to be addressed.
”What I‘m in favor of is getting rid of situations where players can get severely injured.
“I‘m not apportioning the blame ... I‘m sure I’ve got enough confidence in the NRL that will be done.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford