Refs have improved in officiating hip drop tackles: NRL

Jasper Bruce |

Rooster Victor Radley is one of two players to avoid suspension over suspected hip-drop tackles.
Rooster Victor Radley is one of two players to avoid suspension over suspected hip-drop tackles.

The NRL’s football boss says referees are getting better at policing hip-drop tackles despite two players dodging suspension after being sin-binned in round five.

Sydney Roosters lock Victor Radley and North Queensland halfback Chad Townsend were forced off for 10 minutes after laying hip-drop style tackles in their respective games.

But closer inspection cast doubt as to whether either shot featured the three elements of a hip-drop tackle: a defender holding a ball-carrier, twisting them and then applying full body weight onto their legs.

Repeat offender Radley was sin-binned during the final 10 minutes of the Roosters’ 30-26 loss to Canterbury, reducing his side to only 11 players as they fought to ice an unlikely comeback.

But the morning after the game, Radley avoided sanction altogether for the tackle, on Bulldogs captain Stephen Crichton.

“The match review committee deemed it to be accidental and not careless,” said the NRL’s head of football Graham Annesley.

“It was knee falling onto the ankle. They also took into consideration the involvement of (Roosters utility) Connor Watson in the tackle.”

Chad Townsend.
Chad Townsend heads to the sin bin. On Monday, however, he was hit with merely a $1,000 fine. (Scott Radford-Chisholm/AAP PHOTOS)

Townsend received only a $1,000 fine for his tackle on Gold Coast fullback Jayden Campbell, deemed a grade-one offence after the Cowboys’ 35-22 win on Sunday.

It wasn’t the first time in recent seasons the game-day referees and match review committee had differed in their assessments of hip-drop style tackles.

Bulldogs second-rower Jacob Preston was memorably sin-binned during last season’s Good Friday loss to South Sydney, only to avoid sanction the next day.

Conversely, Brisbane’s Pat Carrigan remained on field after laying a hip-drop tackle on Jackson Hastings late in the 2022 season but received a four-match ban in the days that followed.

Annesley has always been at pains to stress that assessing the severity of hip-drop tackles in real time is difficult for on-field match officials.

“We’ve seen cases in the past where players will be sin binned and there’ll be no charge, and we’ve seen cases where players aren’t sin binned but are charged,” Annesley said.

“Our objective is to try and have some degree of uniformity (between referees and the match review committee) in those decisions. 

“They won’t always be in complete alignment because of the different operating environments.

“I’m happy that the match officials have got much, much better at picking up the type of action involved in a hip drop.”

Graham Annesley.
Graham Annesley feels NRL referees have improved in policing hip-drop tackles. (James Gourley/AAP PHOTOS)

Elsewhere, Annesley downplayed criticism alleging Manly had knocked the ball on ahead of a try awarded to Tolu Koula in the 32-18 defeat of Penrith.

Annesley was non-committal when asked whether he thought Tommy Talau had spilt the ball forward ahead of the try, which emboldened Manly to go on with things just before the half.

But Annesley noted the touch judge had been beside Talau at the time the ball went to ground.

“I don’t think this is the outrageously bad decision that some people have suggested,” he said.

“In fact, in some quarters, it’s had some support.”