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Rule that threatens to turn World Cup opener into a farce and rob fans of chance to see NRL’s best

Rugby league fans love talking about disciplinary processes. The Tuesday night at Driver Ave is our weekly instalment, a new case to try in the courts. It’s 12 Angry Men, except there’s 13 of them.

This week has proven a little more My Cousin Vinny, however. It’s been a bit of a farce in league legal circles.

If you haven’t noticed this, it’s because it’s been playing out on the other side of the world for the most part, though that isn’t to say it won’t also happen here. It already is.

England need every player they can get for their opening match of the 2021 World Cup against Samoa and have been pulling every string to get their bodies on deck.

Morgan Knowles will be going head to head with Victor Radley for the 13 jumper for England, and as precursor to that battle, decided to ape his competitor by getting himself hauled in front of the Match Review Panel for the most obvious chicken wing this side of Colonel Sanders.

He was found guilty, then appealed, lost the appeal, then got a second appeal, which he won and will now play this weekend’s Grand Final and – assuming he doesn’t try some egregious foul play in that game – for England against Samoa.

But wait, there’s more. John Bateman, who you will undoubtedly remember, is a very good player. He’s the captain of England. Certainly, you might think, he’s good enough to play for England and not their A side, England Knights and at 28, probably a little old too.

Luckily for Johnny B, however, the Knights have a game against France B, so he‘s been named in their squad in order to knock a game off the three-match suspension he received for ironing out Aidan Sezer in Wigan’s semi-final defeat to Leeds.

Throw in England’s warm-up against Fiji on October 7th and suddenly you’re down to one. England Knights are scheduled to play Scotland on October 8th, too, though even the powers that be at the RFL seem to think that it is a stretch too far for Bateman to be in two England squads at once.

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“It’s a bullshit question,” to quote eminent legal mind Mona Lisa Vito, as played by Marisa Tomei.

Luckily for Tom Burgess, he doesn’t have to worry about such things. He picked up a two-game ban for his high shot on James Tedesco and will be back for the NRL Grand Final, if Souths make it. Had they lost last week, he might well have been named in that Knights squad too.

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will be wishing there was an Aotearoa Maori game, or a Junior Kiwis fixture requiring an older, balder, fatter junior because as it stands, he’ll miss the Kiwis’ opening two games after his ban for a head slam on Burgess in the Roosters’ finals loss two weeks ago.

He’ll get to serve one of his games against Leeds, however, in a game that will totally not be a mess around and definitely will be a real game despite, y’know, being one of the great international sides of the world versus a club team that played a Grand Final ten days before and hasn’t been on Mad Monday at all, not a drop.

Extra feels go out to Lindsay Collins. He missed the Roosters’ finals campaign altogether, rubbed out for a hip drop tackle in Round 24 of the regular season.

He can count this Sunday’s PM XIII game against his suspension even though the ARLC didn’t go to the lengths of actually naming him in the squad and taking up someone else’s roster spot. Collins, if selected for the World Cup, will only be out for the Kangaroos’ opener with Fiji.

Double extra feels remain available to be doled out for any of the four sides who happen to have one of their players suspended this weekend.

Ben Cummins gives Mitch Moses 10 in the bin

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

If, say, Mitchell Moses was to get a ban, it could potentially force Lebanon to lose their best player for something that happened in a game that doesn’t concern them, that said best player was only competing in because a non-Lebanon team did well. Adam Doueihi, their second-best player, doesn’t have such concerns.

See also Lachlan Ilias, Greece’s best player, Val Holmes, should he choose the Cook Islands, or Jason Taumalolo, the captain of Tonga, or any of the six Penrith Panthers who will form almost the entire Samoa backline.

The eminent rugby league historian, Tony Collins, has oft remarked that rugby league never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. For fans in the UK, who have waited since 2013 for a World Cup on home soil and a chance to see the NRL’s finest in action, they could have that taken away from them.

For players, who train and play all year in the hope of representing their nations at the sport’s showpiece event, they could also have it taken away from them.

For clubs, they win: their players serve bans elsewhere with no negative effects at all.

The most annoying thing is quite how avoidable this all is. With Taylan May’s recent non-suspension – alright suspension suspended to next year – it was justified by saying that it was unfair on Penrith fans.

I contend that these rules, as they stand, are unfair on all rugby league fans, especially those who bought World Cup tickets in the hope of seeing the best of the best.

There’s a simple fix too. Just ban players for games in the competition in which they committed the offence. If you were wearing a Roosters jersey when you did the deed, you serve an NRL suspension.

It’s how football works. If Aaron Mooy is sent off for Celtic, he doesn’t miss any Socceroos games. It’s maddeningly simple, and avoids the farce we’ve seen this week.  

The clock, as Ms Vito said, is ticking, ticking, ticking. But they could change it now, if they wanted to, and nobody would object.

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