OPINION: Is Sonny Bill Williams a protected species?
You'd think not, given the fact the NRL banned him for five years after walking out on the Bulldogs.
Furthermore, they only registered his contract with the Roosters a week before this year's opening match and did so grudgingly.
But SBW's five years away from rugby league means his judiciary record has been expunged.
Based on the NRL's view of an incident in the Roosters-Storm match at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, it is likely to stay that way.
Take a look at a 41st-minute crusher tackle where Melbourne's Jason Ryles carried the ball forward. The big prop was tackled, with one Roosters' player going low and SBW high.
Ryles spins his body in the tackle, so that his back is facing the Roosters' goal posts. SBW grabs at Ryles' upper body, with his left hand holding Ryles' jumper and his right hand on the ball.
By this stage Ryles is almost squatting on his behind when SBW jerks him backwards and upwards.
SBW then lifts both his own feet off the ground, propelling himself forward with his entire body off the ground, allowing his full weight to come down on Ryles, with the intention of compressing Ryles' head onto his chest. Fortunately, Ryles managed to extricate his head slightly to the left, lessening the direct impact.
The referee took no action, oblivious to the horrified looks of Ryles' teammates. It followed another crusher tackle on Ryles, only two tackles earlier, when the Roosters' Aidan Guerra was penalised. Both tackles occurred in the opening minute of the second half.
If the referees missed SBW's crusher tackle, South Sydney coach Michael Maguire didn't.
After Monday night's game, when the Rabbitohs' Sam Burgess was penalised for a 34th minute crusher tackle on the Sharks' Andrew Fifita, Maguire wondered whether the SBW tackle could be used as a defence to mitigate the penalty to Burgess.
Both Burgess and Guerra were charged with grade 1 dangerous contact - ''unnecessary head/neck pressure'' - but SBW was not.
NRL general manager of football operations, Nathan McGuirk, confirmed that the Match Review Committee had studied the SBW tackle and forwarded Fairfax Media the committee's report.
It stated: ''S.B. Williams applied pressure with his body to the head/neck of J. Ryles as he took him to the ground. Head not pinned. No excessive flexion of the neck upon hitting the ground. Concerning act. Could have been penalised.''
OK, there was lesser force on Ryles' neck in the SBW tackle but only via his efforts to tuck his head under SBW's left shoulder.
Perhaps Ryles' experience and the fact he has a neck the size of a Snowy Mountains water pipe may have been more significant in escaping injury. Maybe he got used to the idea that players from his former club were attempting to provoke him into a penalty.
Surely, the key factors in the Guerra, SBW and Burgess tackles are not so much the amount of ''flexion'' but the tacklers' intent and the lifting of both feet off the ground to exert maximum weight.
As it transpired, Burgess did challenge the grade 1 charge before the NRL tribunal but was found guilty and misses tomorrow's match, as well as having an additional 50 carry-over points.
Burgess's guilt via another three sets of eyes - the NRL judiciary - further demonstrates SBW's luck.
Adding irony to almost injury, Maguire could not use the SBW crusher tackle in defence of Burgess because it had already been dealt with by the Match Review Committee.
Past incidents can only be used in a player's defence if already brought before the tribunal.
When SBW first played for Canterbury, he was a Gulliver to his rivals, mere Lilliputians who scurried at his heels. In fact, I used William Shakespeare's words in Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II to describe him:
''He doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about.''
Now, those huge legs can be used for jumping on opponents and it would seem NRL officials, rather than ''peep about'', look the other way.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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