Broncos forward Tevita Pangai Junior must learn to team his wild side

The NRL has come in for plenty of criticism since they announced the sanctions for Tevita Pangai Junior – but the Broncos enforcer must learn from the incident writes DARREN LOCKYER.

The NRL has copped a battering over the five-week ban for Broncos forward Tevita Pangai Jr, but it was a statement from the game that was always going to happen.

All the furious debate dissecting whether Pangai Jr deserved a downgrade and how you categorise a grade one, two or three crusher tackles misses the wider, whole-of-game lens through which we should view this issue.

The crusher tackle is dangerous. Full stop.

With the crusher tackle, we are talking potential neck injuries and in that region, it doesn’t always take much force to create a serious injury.

There is a balance to be found between not altering the fabric of the game and punishing foul play.

But ultimately we need to encourage parents in general to take comfort having their children playing rugby league, knowing the governing body is doing all it can to make the game as safe as it can.

Pangai Junior always sails close to the wind. AAP Image/Darren England.
Pangai Junior always sails close to the wind.

The code’s crackdown on spear tackles, then shoulder charges, worked and the next step is getting the crusher out of the game.

We are talking about changing behaviours and it’s rare to now see a shoulder charge in today’s game because the code came down hard on it, as they did with the spear tackle, and the penny dropped for players

With the Pangai Jr incident, he committed a tackle that the NRL wants to eradicate and he copped the full brunt of the law.

The incident alone didn’t warrant such a heavy ban.

But Pangai Jr contributed to the penalty with three prior incidents that triggered a 20 per cent loading, plus additional carry-over points.

In a perfect world, it would have been great to see Pangai Jr playing against Souths last night, but the key takeaway now is for him to control his aggression.

Pangai Jr, who has been superb in the past six weeks, can’t keep spending time in the stands.

It’s frustrating for him and his teammates. Constant brushes with the NRL match review committee will not only have a negative impact on his reputation, but have consequences for his team.

This year has been a rollercoaster for Pangai Jr. He has played longer minutes this season, forcing him to develop the part of his game where he must learn to play under fatigue.

Sometimes error or poor judgment is a by-product of fatigue. Unfortunately for the Broncos, Pangai Jr is their X-factor and they are going to really miss him in the run to the finals.

I would like to think he is learning from it. It will really hurt him watching the next three to five weeks. Hopefully the time on the sideline makes him reflect on his unfortunate moments and how he can stay out of hot water.

Pangai Jr can still play with aggression, but he just has to control it. Players have no control over the rules but their mindset must be to play within them, otherwise they will ultimately be disadvantaging their teammates.

I don’t agree with people who believe the game has gone soft. The mental and physical toughness is still there, we just need to balance physicality with welfare.

I’m equally convinced wrestling in the game is not as bad as it once was.

The Storm have been easy targets in recent weeks. Every club in the game wrestles at the ruck, the Storm are just better exponents at it and probably work harder at it.

The reality is we will never remove the wrestle from the game. If we tried that, we’d see 40 penalties a game and there would be all sorts of anger over what constitutes a ruck indiscretion and what doesn’t.

Any coach is going to push the limits in the pursuit of success, so the challenge for the code is staying alert and cracking down on any acts that put players in danger of serious damage like the crusher.

As a code, I believe we are doing that.

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