When sporting worlds collide: Robinson warns against NFL-style kick-off change

Roosters coach Trent Robinson has cautioned against an NFL-style kick-off change in the NRL, saying the game should be open to adapting for player safety as long as the changes don’t make the game “unrecognisable”.

The NFL’s rule change will have players from the kicking team lining up at the opponent’s 40-yard line, to prevent high-impact collisions caused by the running starts of opposing players.

What that kind of change could look like for the NRL is up for debate, but it’s topical enough that even Robinson said he and veteran forward Jared Waerea-Hargreaves had spoken about it this week.

“I feel like there are certain points in a game that set the tone for how a game is going to be played, not many one-off plays can do that, and kick-offs have in our past,” Robinson said.

“So, I’m reluctant to lose the brutality that can go off a kick-off and the statement that can be made. And then, because of the brutality is why we’re discussing it as well. There are injuries that do come out of that, that’s why the NFL changed it. I’m a bit on the fence still on what we should do there, and how we do not injure guys, but we don’t want to take out of our games the statement plays as well.”

The NFL’s new rules will have the kick-off taken from the same place – the kicking team’s 35-yard line – but 10 players from the kicking team will line up on the receiving team’s 40-yard line, while a minimum of nine players from the receiving team will line up between their own 35 and 30-yard line. This brings the defence and offence players closer together in an effort to prevent high-speed, high-impact collisions.

The discussion about kick-offs emerged after Bulldogs forward Jacob Preston broke his jaw in a kick-off collision with South Sydney’s Shaquai Mitchell last weekend, and last year, the Rabbitohs’ Tevita Tatola failed his head injury assessment after colliding with Cronulla’s Dale Finucane from the kick-off

Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook said kick-offs were such defining moments of the game, and while he stressed the importance of looking after players on the field, said the game wouldn’t be the same without them.

“For me, growing up as a kid and now playing the game, I think it’s one of the most iconic parts of the game. Not just every week round game, but you think about Origin as well,” he said on Sky Sport’s Radio.

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“I don’t think there’s much difference between those [kick-off collisions] and an outside back returning a kick return into a straight line … I think it’s just part of our game, and it’s a part where the likes of someone like Tom Burgess, that’s one of his big strengths for us is we put him on a kick-off carry, there’s a good chance we start that set on the front foot.”

For Robinson, it’s about balancing player safety and the reality of contact sport.

“We are a contact sport, so we’re not going to go away from being a contact sport,” he said. “Then you’ve got the other side of it. It’s a bit like boxing, how do you make boxing safer? The way to make boxing safer is to make better rules within the ring about how does someone get protected when they’re in the ring if something does happen, and then what happens outside of the ring, and I think we’re getting a lot better at those.

“So, how do we hold the essence of our sport, and the uniqueness of it, and protect our players? I think we’ve got to keep heading [down] that path, but not make some game-changing decisions that other sports have made, that make it unrecognisable to the contact sports.”

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