The slap has gone the same way as the punch, with the NRL promising that future offenders will be marched to the sin bin.
David Klemmer’s open-handed hit to the face of Daly Cherry-Evans last month led to calls, chiefly by the Manly captain’s teammate Nate Myles, for referees to treat such conduct more seriously.
The Canterbury lock was penalised for his role in that altercation at Lottoland but remained on the field. That will not be the case any longer after a meeting of the NRL competition committee on Wednesday determined that slapping should be regarded as a sin-binning offence.
The rule change leaves Myles as something of an agenda setter, having coincidentally played a part in the NRL’s crackdown on both punching and slapping. It was the closed fist of Paul Gallen that collected the Queensland forward during the 2013 State of Origin series that led to then NRL chief executive Dave Smith establishing a no-tolerance position on punching.
Now, Myles’ comments in the aftermath of Klemmer’s run-in with Cherry-Evans have preceded a hardline stance being taken on slapping.
The Manly veteran described such on-field behaviour as “stupid”. “If you walk down the street and punch someone and slap someone, it’s the same sort of judgment,” Myles said.
The competition committee includes ARLC chairman John Grant, commissioner Wayne Pearce, NRL chief Todd Greenberg, head coaches Trent Robinson and Michael Maguire, former Jillaroos captain and NRL integrity boss Karyn Murphy and Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga. Injured South Sydney captain Greg Inglis, who stood in for committee member Cameron Smith, was also present.
“Slapping is not a good look for the game and I support any efforts to ensure that it is not a part of rugby league,” Robinson said. “The game has worked hard for a long time on its image for all people, but particularly for children and mothers, and this sends the right message to them.”
Maguire added: “We have seen instances of punching reduce significantly and we hope to now see a similar trend with slapping.”
Asked about the incident with Cherry-Evans last week Klemmer indicated that frustration had got the better of him during a forgettable 36-0 drubbing by the Sea Eagles.
“Those sort of things happen,” Klemmer said. “When you’re playing professional sport emotions get to you. I didn’t think too much of it. It just sort of happened.”
In the wake of the punching ban implemented four years ago Queensland five-eighth Johnathan Thurston sparked an altercation in game two of the 2014 series when he reached around from second marker with a cheeky slap to the face of NSW second-rower Beau Scott.
The bunker can rule on future instances of slapping if missed by the on-field referees.
“Slapping may not always hurt physically but it is a poor look for the game and a bad example to juniors,” NRL head of football Brian Canavan said.
“Referees will now be empowered to deal with slapping incidents as they would with punches – by using the sin bin.”
The competition committee also recommended that the game’s protocols around concussion and head injury assessments remain without change, determining that an 18th man should not be introduced to replace players forced out of a game due to a head knock.
The potential introduction of independent doctors to oversee clubs’ adherence to the concussion guidelines was also discussed but the committee decided any recommendation on that front should be made by the NRL medical advisory panel.