League’s crackdown on late hits survives its first real challenge

Wests Tigers forward Luke Garner says rugby league is "a little bit softer" than in previous eras but concedes defenders must adapt to the NRL's late-hit edict.

The league's crackdown survived its first real challenge on Tuesday night, as Garner failed to overturn his dangerous contact charge for a late shot on Lachlan Lewis.

Marched: Luke Garner lost his argument that he didn’t have enough time to pull out of a tackle on Lachlan Lewis.Credit:NRL Photos

Garner's case was the first made by a player after being charged under the new directive, which was rubber-stamped by the ARL Commission in June.

He will now miss Thursday's clash with Manly, losing his argument that he didn't have enough time to pull out of a tackle on Canterbury half Lachlan Lewis after a pass.

That late hit coincided with a similar sin-bin to Bulldogs lock Chris Smith in the same match, which was met with criticism last weekend.

Bulldogs fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak even labelled the decision "soft" on Sunday.

And while Garner said that may be true when asked about the comments, he believed it was clear the onus was now on defenders to react.

"Some people can say that [the game's got soft]," Garner said.

"From the older days where there was a lot more going on to now it's obviously a little bit softer. But that's the transition it makes from year to year.

"They want to protect the players so that's what they've got to do.

"We've got to stop making those tackles now. They do seem like they are coming down pretty strict on that."

Garner's comments come after the NRL's head of football Graham Annesley rebuked the suggestion the code had gone soft earlier this week.

He challenged critics to lace up a boot and argued it was the one criticism that could never be levelled at the NRL.

Annesley also claimed the late-hit rule was already working, having seen players pull out of such tackles.

In the dock: Garner arrives at the NRL judiciary on Tuesday night.Credit:AAP

He compared it to the rules introduced to outlaw the shoulder charge, dangerous throw, high tackle and punching.

But in Tuesday's hour-long hearing, Garner's lawyer Nick Ghabar argued that marginally late collisions were merely part of the game.

"A playmaker who runs and digs into the line at the distance this player did assumes and accepts some risk of being tackled and some risk of injury," Ghabar said.

"That [unavoidable contact] sometimes happens in a game of rugby league. These are two players doing their job."

However, the panel of Bob Lindner, Tony Puletua and Sean Garlick agreed with NRL counsel Peter McGrath's stance that the playmaker must be protected.

"The playmaker in Lewis' position is entitled to take the ball to line and play at the last millisecond," McGrath said.

"But he is entitled in that vulnerable position to protection … Garner had a special duty to avoid forceful and dangerous contact."


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