Shoulder charge ban frustrates Matulino

BY BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:00 25/11/2012
Matulino
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FRUSTRATED: Warriors star Ben Matulino is known for his Shoulder charges.

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It has been a staple of rugby league TV highlights packages since 2008, the year Ben Matulino made his first-grade debut.

The shoulder charge - an act made into an art form from the Warriors hulking prop.

That bone-jarring collision of force laying a fired-up opponent flat, Matulino's shoulder charges were always simple in their methodology and enforcement, and had the ability to create to swing a game's ebb and flow in mere mili-seconds.

No more. This week, the Australian Rugby League Commission decided to ban the spectacular, albeit dangerous tackling method from the NRL.

Their reasoning? That its absence would be better for player welfare, given the chance the sudden jarring impact can possibly have on the victim's upper body, particularly the head.

In 2012, only 71 (less than two per NRL round) of the 142,355 tackles made during the season were deemed "shoulder charges" while only 17 per cent of those resulting in contact with the head of the player with the ball. Many in the game, including Warriors team doctor John Mayhew, have applauded the move. After all, it has been banned domestically in New Zealand for years.

There has, however, been widespread dismay - even anger - from the NRL's player ranks.

What does Matulino make of it all? Like a prize gunslinger without his trusty .45s, the biggest, most eye-catching, weapon in the Kiwi prop's arsenal has now been removed.

Even though the humble 23-year-old isn't one to get all bitter and twisted, he's certainly "angry", make no mistake.

"It was a big part of my game, and pretty much the only thing I could bring to the team," he said, somewhat modestly. "It's my one trick gone. I don't chuck the cut-out balls, or do the big steps. But I've just got to adapt to the game, and do what Matty [coach Matt Elliott] tells me to do."

While Matulino remains modest, team-mate Manu Vatuvei is more vocal.

The giant winger reckons the NRL should come down harder on those few bad eggs who make the worst tackles; that heavy game bans for the worst tackles should be in place instead of removing what the shoulder charge brings to league.

"Ben Matulino - he's the type of person that can control that. He's got an awesome technique," he said.

"With Sonny Bill coming back [too], there are plenty of guys who know how to do it well. Those other guys who don't know how to do it should be sat out for a bit, taken out of the game for a bit."

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After reviewing footage of Matulino's tackling style, Warriors coach Elliott actually believes his star prop could be fine.

"Someone asked me about Ben the other day, so I went and looked at some of his tackles [on video]," the former Raiders and Panthers boss said.

"He's not actually shoulder charging - he's tackling where he hits with his shoulder."

Whether he will be or not will be seen next year. Sometime in the first few rounds, a player is going to cope a ban for employing a shoulder charge, in whatever form. Expect column inches then, and an understanding of where the new line is.

Matulino will have to refrain, at times. He knows that. But also knows his technique has always been solid - but that he is now on a learning curve.

"I always followed with my arms and that's what they are looking for," Matulino said. "I know how to tackle anyway, but I've just got to cut out the shoulder charges.

"I know there will be times in the game when I will be tempted to do it - but that's part of the learning curve now."

One thing is for sure. The days of the TAB running ad campaigns featuring Matulino making the big hits are over.

Tackling, that enduring fundamental of rugby league, may not be getting so many seconds when it comes to television.

"They start off with all the trick passes and all that, then they go into the hits," Matulino said.

"It will be weird to see the next highlights reel. I don't think you'll see too many legs being tackled making it on there."

- Sunday News

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