The NRL‘s head of football, Graham Annesley, has urged players to lower their target zone in tackles to avoid the risk of more sin bins and send-offs during the upcoming finals. In a rare move, Annesley presented a video package at the Round 23 briefing, showcasing seven incidents from this season that resulted in Grade 2 careless high tackle charges. Three of these incidents occurred during last weekend’s matches, leading to Roosters forward Nathan Brown and Titans prop Moe Fotuaika being sent off, and Rabbitohs front-rower Tom Burgess being sin binned. All three players have since been suspended after entering guilty pleas.
The video package also featured illegal hits from other notable players, including Cowboys centre Val Holmes for his high shot on Gold Coast fullback Jayden Campbell in Round 22, and Eels winger Maika Sivo for his tackle on Titans rookie Jo Jo Fifita in Round 20. Annesley has previously issued warnings to clubs about high tackles, particularly by defenders rushing in at speed, but he stated that these incidents have become more frequent and concerning.
Annesley highlighted the common theme of shoulder contact with the head of an opponent, expressing alarm at the increasing frequency of such incidents. He emphasised that the NRL has been focused on taking action against unnecessary contact with the head and neck for several years in an effort to prioritize player safety. While Annesley acknowledged that players are not intentionally aiming high, he stressed the need for them to lower their target zones during tackles to avoid being sent off and facing lengthy bans. Holmes and Sivo both received four-match suspensions, while Burgess, Brown, and Fotuaika received three, one, and one-match suspensions respectively.
Annesley explained that players often attempt to execute front-on tackles but inadvertently target the shoulders instead of the intended lower areas. Even a small margin of error in these tackles can result in the incidents that have been witnessed throughout the season. He called on players and coaches to address this issue, cautioning that the consequences for aiming in the shoulder area during tackles, especially at high velocity, can include penalties, being placed on a report, sin bins, or send-offs.
The fact that no player had been sent off since Round 2 this season led to speculation of a crackdown after two players were marched in the same weekend. However, Annesley vehemently denied this, stating that match officials had not received any specific instructions about high tackles from the Rugby League Commission (RLC). He clarified that the referees and the Bunker make judgment calls based on the circumstances and seriousness of each incident, as they do every week, and that the difficulty in refereeing close and tight games can influence these decisions.