NRL refs boss wants sin bin and send-offs to stamp out high shots

NRL referees boss Jared Maxwell has urged match officials to use send-offs and the sin bin to stamp out high shots, saying he would have been comfortable if Felise Kaufusi and Sean Keppie had been marched from the field in round two.

The NRL has been criticised for not taking stronger action after several players were concussed by high tackles. Melbourne’s Kaufusi remained on the field after clocking Parramatta’s Ryan Matterson, who took no further part in the game and is sidelined for this weekend’s clash with Cronulla. Kaufusi escaped with a two-game ban after entering an early guilty plea to a grade-two dangerous contact charge.

South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds was also knocked out of the game after copping a high hit from Manly’s Keppie on Saturday night. Keppie also remained on the field.

In his first interview since taking over as referees’ boss, Maxwell said that, as a minimum, the sin bin should have been used in both instances. The former referee said he would have also been comfortable if the offenders were sent off altogether.

“Definitely, there was a warranting of a sin bin in both of them,” Maxwell told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I wouldn’t have been disappointed if they had taken the toughest approach [sending off]. That’s definitely an option and there for a referee to dismiss players.

“We’re not sending the message out that that can’t happen. We have had send-offs in recent times and that will remain. Referees have got the discretion to make the decision in relation to foul play and that send-off will always remain an option for them.”

Concussion has again become a hot topic for rugby league. The Kaufusi and Keppie incidents come just a week after Jake Friend copped a head knock in an accidental collision. Roosters teammate Boyd Cordner isn’t expected to return until midseason from his previous concussion.

Maxwell said referees shouldn’t be reluctant to send off players if required.

“If it’s warranted, absolutely,” Maxwell said. “I don’t want to be seeking a weaker approach in relation to foul play.”

Maxwell said match officials and the bunker needed to work together to ensure future instances of foul play were punished.

“There’s just one or two instances last weekend where we needed to consider stronger action,” Maxwell said. “It only takes one instance for the consistency to be questioned. We need to make sure that message is clear in our approach to foul play.”

Players believe the number of high shots will decrease in coming rounds as they get fitter and better able to handle the speed of the game in 2021, which has increased due to rule changes.

“No one goes out there to purposely put someone in a high shot or in a dangerous position,” Dragons forward Tariq Sims said.

“I think definitely fatigue plays a major factor in that and that’s something that will come the more we play. The more we play, the more game fitness you get. I think you will see the penalty and those high shots definitely come creeping down because people will get used to the speed of the game.”

The NRL has just completed a review and restructure of its medical department which will result in the establishment of an expanded medical advisory panel. The restructure means the role of chief medical officer, occupied by Paul Bloomfield for the past six years, will leave the business at the end of the month.

A medical operations manager will be appointed to liaise with clubs. The panel will be expanded to include specialist doctors in sports medicine, occupational health, neurology, and other disciplines as required. The NRL claims this will provide access to more specialist physicians than before.

“I want to thank all 16 clubs, especially the club doctors, for their support over the last six years. I believe the innovations we have implemented in all aspects of medical management, not just concussion, have significantly benefited player safety and welfare, and the game as a whole,” Dr Bloomfield said.

“We’ve taken enormous steps to implement protocols that reduce the risk of head injuries. I’m also extremely proud the NRL has linked with the University of Newcastle and Harvard University for one of the world’s largest studies into head injuries in collision sport, both for past and present players. The work done during this study will benefit generations to come.”