NRL boss Dave Smith has revealed that some Australian schools had threatened to ban rugby league if the code went soft on on-field violence in State of Origin.
Smith was responding to claims that the crackdown on fighting after the Paul Gallen incident in Origin I was a reaction to criticism from people outside the game, and he said it was important for the NRL to try to attract new fans.
However, he also said the game risked losing the support of those already involved in rugby league if it tolerated the type of violence seen in the opening two Origin matches when Gallen and fellow NSW forward Trent Merrin have punched opponents after a tackle. As an example, Smith cited a letter he had received from a headmaster who said he would recommend to a conference of school principles that they should ban rugby league.
''For every one piece of feedback I get like that [criticising him for the decision], I will receive 10 letters from headmasters and they will tell me in their letters that quite frankly they don't want to see violence in the game,'' Smith said.
''It is a society-wide issue, and one of those headmasters will be going to a conference of 100 headmasters and they will recommend that rugby league is not played in their schools if we don't get on top of it.''
After being contacted by Smith, the headmaster was satisfied that the NRL also wanted to stamp out on-field violence and his school continues to play rugby league.
While NRL officials insist they always would have acted after Gallen punched Nate Myles, the letters show the level of support for Smith's edict against punching and the consequences of doing nothing.
If players and supporters want to see the NRL attract more money through broadcast and sponsorship deals, the game needs to continue to grow and Smith said it was skill - not biff - that would entice new fans. ''The base of the pyramid has got to be as wide as we can possibly make it,'' Smith said. ''We have this immense strength, which is the incredibly talented athletes who play our game so we should showcase their skills.
''Of course things are going to blow up from time to time but fundamentally there is nowhere on this planet where you can strike someone and get away with it without consequences. I am not taking anything away from the spectacle that is Origin or the competitiveness of it but that doesn't mean you can strike somebody, and if you do there is going to be a consequence, like anywhere else in life.''
Both Gallen and Merrin were suspended for one match after being charged with striking by the match review committee. ''Frankly that is not what the game is about and there isn't really a place for fighting and striking. That is not a rule I have invented, it is a rule that has been there for decades,'' Smith said.
''But regardless of that, the fundamental point is that we have got the greatest game of all, this wonderful game of football with incredibly talented athletes.''
- Sydney Morning Herald
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