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Memo to NRL: Don't bring back the biff

James Graham and Will Chambers after the Round 1 NRL match between the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and the Melbourne Storm at Belmore Sports Ground in Sydney, Saturday, March 3rd, 2017. (AAP Image/Craig Golding) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
James Graham and Will Chambers after the Round 1 NRL match between the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and the Melbourne Storm at Belmore Sports Ground in Sydney, Saturday, March 3rd, 2017. (AAP Image/Craig Golding) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY CRAIG GOLDING

WHO remembers the infamous 'cattle dog' call in a State of Origin match in Melbourne more than two decades ago that led to an ugly all-in brawl?

And those who have been fans of the game for that amount of time will also more than likely recall Reg Reagan, the alter ego of TV heavyweight Matthew Johns, relentlessly demanding 'bring back the biff.'

Thankfully, those days of rugby league - when cynics of the game delighted in referring to it as thugby league - are long gone. Or have they?

When part-time professional boxer Paul Gallen rained a flurry of punches on the head of Nate Myles in an Origin match four years ago the authorities decided enough was enough. Punches were banned, and players who landed them were banished to the sin bin for 10 minutes and then often suspended.

Rarely, in the intervening period, has a punch been thrown. Sure, there have been melees - uglier and messier than a punch-up, but less dangerous - but players have been loath to throw a haymaker for fear of a sin bin plus a suspension.

That was until last weekend, the opening round of the 2017 NRL season. And while it was far from a free-for-all weekend, three players were caught breaking the golden rule that has reigned almost supreme for the past four seasons.

In its wisdom, NRL officialdom decided that for season 2017 some supposedly lesser on-field indiscretions - such as punching - would warrant a fine, rather than a suspension. And immediately, it seems, there has been a player reaction.

In round one three players were reprimanded for punching, with two of them sin-binned. Will Chambers (Storm) was the harshest hit, fined $1150 after an early plea on top of his sinbinning.

In the case of Sam Kasiano (Bulldogs), binned for the same incident, he escaped without a fine, supposedly because he was reacting to being punched.

Raiders centre Joey Leilua, arguably the most ill-disciplined player in the competition, threw a punch that was not detected by officials but picked up by the Match Review Committee - and most TV viewers - so he escaped the sin bin. But he has been fined $1350, increased because of a prior offence.

I have never had access to a lot of money, so to me those fines are fairly sizeable. But to NRL players annually paid more than most of us earn in a decade, are these fines seriously a deterrent?

In principle I agree that some minor or accidental offences, such as a careless high tackle, touching a referee and trivial contrary conduct, don't need to go to the judiciary. A fine is fine.

But punching someone is a deliberate act, and it is dangerous. It is also ugly, more often than not leads to further ugliness and has no place in our modern game.

Ban it again, please.

Topics:  james graham joey leilua nrl sportopinion tony durkin will chambers

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