NRL 2024: Ban kick-offs, debate, concussions, Paul Kent vs Dean Ritchie, Braith Anasta, Jacob Preston, Bulldogs vs Rabbitohs, Round 5

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Debate has raged over the potential for the NRL to ban kick-offs to avoid high speed collisions that have resulted in three knock-outs so far in the 2024 season.

The sight of players running off the back fence into the teeth of the defence after the kick-off is part of the NRL’s fabric, but player welfare could see an end to the long-time tradition.

“The great debate, the ban of the kick-off,” Braith Anasta said on NRL 360.

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Dean Ritchie believes the NRL will discuss banning the kick-off as it currently stands in the next three seasons.

“I spoke to Greg Alexander and Brandy gave me a couple of quotes, and he is another advocate for it to be considered to be banned,” Ritchie said.

“I’m not calling for it to be banned. All I’m saying is, is it a discussion that we will have to have in the next two to three years.”

Paul Kent launched a spirited defence of the game and the kick-off and called on coaches to change their approach to kick-offs rather than banning the practice entirely.

“No, it’s not,” Kent said.

“The answer is no because it’s rugby league. OK, let me just start going through it.

“They play the game willingly, OK. They are well-paid to play the game.

“It is their decision to catch the ball and to accelerate. There’s nothing in the rules that says you have to accelerate into the line the way they do.

“There’s nothing in the rules that say you have to defend that tackle like they do, with two players either side of the bloke in the middle, all standing upright.

“They can change the way they tackle. They don’t have to run the ball back into the line as they do.

“In all the times we watch these, whoever hits the line and punches through the line and goes 30 or 40 metres? It doesn’t happen.

“The only time we ever see a break off the kick-off, is when they actually start passing the ball.

“We are locked in this, one coughs and we’ve all got a cold. So everybody treats it exactly the same.

“Change the way they play. Why does the rule have to be changed because the players or the coaches are coaching them to do a certain thing that’s not beneficial to them?”

However, Ritchie questioned if the NRL should be looking at more ways to protect the players from themselves, which sparked a fiery debate.

“But why aren’t we looking at ways to reduce collision?” Ritchie said.

“Oh, well, that’s called touch,” Kent roared.

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“Let’s call it touch football. Because they play the game by their own choice.”

“A bloke gets off the back fence,” Ritchie explained.

“They kick off from halfway. We’ve got 60 metres. They’re going at 30km an hour. The G-force is incredible.

“I’m not saying ban it. You misunderstand me. I am saying in due course I think they will get rid of that heavy collision and they will start with a 20-metre tap.”

“That’s embarrassing,” Kent said.

“It’s embarrassing,” Anasta agreed.

“We’re going to ruin the game. It will ruin the game. It’s a fine line.”

“I’ve got a solution, get some tags and attach them to your shorts,” Kent said.

“Let’s just tap and run off the kick-off,” Anasta said.

“There has been three KO’s this year,” Ritchie said.

“But you’re hammering me. You’re hammering the wrong bloke.”

Kent slammed the NRL for even allowing the discussion to take place.

“I’m hammering the NRL because no one in there is listening,” Kent said.

“And the fact that they’re even allowing this conversation to gain momentum, is once again another embarrassment for the game.

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“Because you know what? It’s rugby league. It’s like two fighters get in a ring, you know? They get in there willingly, and you know what? The price of them getting in the ring is the purse they get at the end of it. And they pay a price on the way.”

Still, Ritchie believes the NRL will continue to look at ways to enhance player welfare.

“You are aware of what the NRL have been doing the last three to four years in terms of trying to eradicate potential concussions,” Ritchie said.

“Well, you’re not allowed to hit players in the head anymore,” James Hooper said.

“You’re simply not allowed.”

Kent believes the NRL risk ruining the fabric of the sport if they keep taking away elements that are unique to rugby league.

“The rules are there already to protect the player,” Kent said.

“If they want to do what they do and run the ball and take the risk and it goes wrong, there’s rules in place to penalise for that.

“I don’t see what the problem is. I don’t see why we’re getting this hysteria all the time where blokes sit there and go, oh, we’re going to change the rules.

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“If the NRL keeps listening to this stupid argument that people keep tossing up, right, eventually we will literally be sitting there playing touch football. It will kill the game.”

However, Ritchie believes the kick-off as it currently stands will be extinct in three years, which caught the ire of the panel.

“I’ll put 20 bucks on it right now in three years that will be outlawed,” Ritchie said.

“It would be a sad day,” Anasta said.

“You know what it probably will be, but that’s not on me though, that’s on the NRL,” Kent said.

“And finally, get some people in there that know what they’re talking about and actually understand the fabric of the game a little bit.

“Players play by choice. It’s not the gladiator era where they’re told, you’re playing rugby league and you’re going to be sitting there and you’re going to put your welfare on the line for the entertainment of us. They choose to do so. They are well-paid to do so. That’s the fact of it.”

“I just hope those three people with concussion don’t bounce their grandkids on their knee 20 years from now and don’t remember their names,” Ritchie said.

“That’s it you’re barred,” Kent said.

“That’s embarrassing, honestly,” Anasta said.

“Anyway, the debate is over and I think you lost it.”

Originally published as ‘It will kill the game’: Debate rages over NRL’s ‘embarrassing’ discussions to ban kick-offs