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NRL Six Again: The not so Magic Round

First tackle: Magic Round not so magic

Rugby league is a simple game played by tough men for the entertainment of the masses. The referees are there to keep the teams apart, apply the rules and generally not have any undue influence on the outcome. Somewhere between the introduction of the "six again" rule and the weekend's sin bin crackdown for repeat infringements and contact with the head, the referees have taken the result out of the hands of the players. The game is entering farcical territory.

When you hear rugby league legend and current commentator Peter Sterling say that he turned a game off halfway through because it wasn't a contest, you know something is wrong. Sterling was referring to the Broncos, Sea Eagles clash during which Brisbane were reduced to 11 players on the way to a 50-8 hammering.

Ricky Stuart said after his Raiders finished with 12 players, that the game had changed.

"It's sad we're talking about it... we're giving other sports a leg up and that's not what we're here for," Stuart lamented.

"We've got a wonderful weekend of rugby league and we want to promote our game. Unfortunately, we're talking about the wrong things, but it has to be spoken about too."

Super coach Wayne Bennett weighed in with a unusually lengthy commentary.

"I've been on this for a long time about the head stuff," Bennett said after the Rabbitohs beat the Sharks.

"I'm totally supportive of that, but I'm not supportive of the game can go on a whole minute after it (dangerous tackle) and come back and we all stop the whole game and go through the video and put somebody on report and give a penalty. If the ref doesn't see it, just get on with it.

"Who's reffing the game now? Is it the Bunker? The Bunker is there for support of the referees but if the ref hasn't seen it or penalised it they can pick it up tomorrow and they can charge the players tomorrow. They've got all those rights.

"You've got to understand that the game relies on momentum, for the game to be attractive it needs to have momentum in it and every time you stop the game you break the momentum."

Fans, commentators, players and coaches have had enough of the tinkering that continues to come from the top of the game's administration. The great game of rugby league is heading rapidly towards being unwatchable, if it isn't already there.

Second tackle: Send offs were worthy

Amid the 14 players sent to the sin bin over the weekend, there were also three send-offs, a single round tally not seen for 25 years. The first player to be marched was Canberra's Josh Papalii, sent off for a high hit on Canterbury winger Tui Katoa in the 61st minute of that game.

Papalii drove a shoulder into the chin of Katoa, knocking the winger out. Under the head contact crackdown, he had to go. Prior to the crackdown he would have been in real trouble anyway, definitely on report, with a suspension to follow.

The worst of the three was Tyrell Fuimaono's swinging arm high shot on Ryan Papenhuyzen, which probably would have seen him sent off before the crackdown. Titans forward Herman Ese'ese's shot on Panthers' winger Brian To'o was probably the most spectacular, without doing any real damage.

The amazing thing about these three send-offs is that the players all had plenty of warning about the new consequences of head shots. Titans coach Justin Holbrook couldn't work out what Ese'ese was thinking.

"We were the last game, we had all the time in the world to get our own house in order," Holbrook said.

"It's a completely reckless decision on his behalf - and we paid the price for it."

All three will have some time on the sidelines, to work on their tackling techniques and common sense.

Third tackle: Magic Round wasn't all bad

It can't be easy being the coach's son, especially at Parramatta, when you play in the halves. The Eels have been famously searching for a top halves pairing since Peter Sterling and Brett Kenny retired, so anyone pulling on the 6 or 7 jersey is under enormous scrutiny.

With Dylan Brown having a rest thanks to his knees to the back of Roosters five-eighth Drew Hutchison, Jakob Arthur was given his debut by his father Brad. He had a solid game as the Eels proved too good for the Warriors, but there were a couple of moments that brought a big smile to his dad's face in the coach's box.

Early in the second half the Eels put a bomb high in the air, it came off Warriors hands five metres out from their line and landed in the lap of young Arthur. He scooted around the pile and only needed to dummy to go over for his first NRL try, but selflessly passed to Ryan Matterson to make sure of it.

Then, with four minutes remaining and the Eels leading 28-18, he ran at the line from ten metres out, dummied and stepped though the Warriors defence to scramble over for his first NRL try. His father nearly brought the box down, jumping up and down and punching the air.

After the game Brad confirmed it had been a big day.

"I gave him a cuddle (afterwards)," Brad said.

"I'm proud of the playing group. They made it a special day for me and the family."

Could the Arthurs be the new Clearys?

Fourth tackle: Teddy needs to change his approach

James Tedesco had a brilliant game for the Roosters in their victory over the Cowboys, but he was again the focus of a controversial head shot by Lachlan Burr.

With 16 minutes remaining in the game Tedesco received the ball midfield, dummied and went for a run at the defensive line. For whatever reason in the seconds before impact Tedesco dips about 20 centimetres. It leaves a defender with very little opportunity to make contact anywhere but his head.

Burr stood his ground to make a front on tackle only to find Tedesco's head colliding with his shoulder. Short of diving out of the way he had very little opportunity to avoid the collision. Under the new crackdown on head contact Burr was placed on report and became another Magic Round sin bin occupant. It is easy to say he should be aiming lower in the first place, but Tedesco's approach sees his legs fold and become a difficult target as well.

Tedesco was quick to point to his head after the tackle, and seemed pleased with the end result, but with the bell ringer in last week's Eels game, and now another shot, it is his health that is in jeopardy if he continues to dip before tackles.

Fifth and last: Walker's down

Sam Walker has been an incredible talent since his debut, but there was a moment early in the second half of the Roosters clash with the Cowboys when he came crashing back to earth, literally. Cowboys star Valentine Holmes lined him up around the halfway line and sent him sprawling with a fend, before racing away to set up a try to Scott Drinkwater.

Walker admitted after the game that he was anxious about seeing coach Trent Robinson after a couple of defensive lapses and an errant flick pass marred his contribution. It's a fair indication of how much importance the Roosters place on individual responsibility for performance. Walker was prepared to own his one-on-one tackle misses, and knew the coach would be in his ear about them.

Handover: It's rugby league, but not as we knew it

Let's not forget the other ugliness that has contributed to the degradation of the game we all knew and loved, the abuse of the decoy runner rules. In the Panthers' clash with the Titans we saw Nathan Cleary claim a penalty in the 22nd minute that prevented a Titans try that could have levelled the scores.

Cleary deliberately ran across into the decoy runner, well away from the ball, threw his hands in the air and fell down like he had been shot. If Benji Marshall came under scrutiny a couple of weeks ago for his "acting" then Cleary's effort would not have looked out of place in an episode of Home and Away.

The final game of Magic Round had everything; a high shot sin-binning, a high shot send off, decoy runner penalties, multiple six again calls stifling the underdog's hopes of hanging on, a fend that was too high, even the old player claiming a crusher tackle move. The Panthers were expected to win, and did so comfortably. If you were hoping for a great game of rugby league you would have been disappointed. If you were happy to watch the best team in the competition run in as many spectacular tries as they could pile on, you would have enjoyed what was served up.