ST HELENS coach Nathan Brown has blasted the RFL for what he sees as its unwillingness to protect some of the key players in the game, following the latest concussion suffered by Saints halfback Gareth O’Brien in the match against Catalan Dragons on Saturday.
In the build-up to St Helens’ second try Catalan star Zeb Taia sparked argument around the stands, hitting O’Brien after he had passed the ball and leaving the St Helens halfback laying prone on the floor for almost ten minutes before having to leave the field in a neck brace on a stretcher.
It came less than two weeks after O’Brien suffered a similar injury, when he was felled by Wigan forward Scott Taylor.
Brown was scathing in his attack on the RFL for their processes, which he claims do not protect players.
“I’ve let the match commissioner know what I think about the tackle at half-time. I thought it was nothing short of disgraceful, and the reason why they’ve done it (not sent Taia off) is because last week, Scott Taylor deliberately hit Gareth O’Brien in the head and knocked him out.
“I believe Zeb Taia is a lovely fella, and a terrific player, but they’ve attacked his (O’Brien’s) head deliberately and he’ll get nothing, because the match commissioner will be shocking about it. I find it absolutely downright rude and disgraceful that they (the RFL) don’t protect the players in the game, in particular the small ones, who are the key players.
“The reward that they could have got was a victory, and if Zeb Taia is unlucky, he’ll get a free trip to Spain for a week. It’s disgraceful.
“It is absolutely nothing short of appalling, Luke Robinson got knocked out cold two weeks ago, sparked out cold, and he’s as tough a kid as I’ve seen.
“But what happened there? Nothing! It’s just shocking. If one of my own players did it, I’d expect them to be sent off and I’d expect him to be suspended for a long, long period of time.
“Are we going to wait until some kid gets a broken neck or a broken jaw before the RFL acts on it? It’s like attacking the knees, there is one club in particular that still does it.
“We lost Mark Flanagan for a season to a career-threatening injury, and what’s the reward? Nothing! It’s shocking. I’m really appalled that the RFL can allow this to keep happening, really appalled.
“Look, Benny Thaler is a terrific referee, but if Benny sends him off, his reward is that Zeb Taia runs out next week, so he looks like a dope, doesn’t he? So I do feel for Benny too, because the support he gets is zero.
“Gareth isn’t good at all, he doesn’t know what happened, as he wouldn’t. He’s 75 kilos and a 100 kilogram bloke attacks his head deliberately when he hasn’t got the ball. How do you think he’s feeling? It’s really, really appalling, you know, it’s just shocking.”
“If someone actually acted on it and did the right thing, Zeb Taia wouldn’t have done it. He would never have done it, because he knows that he’ll get sent off firstly, and then he’ll get six or ten weeks on the sideline. But what we’ll do is wait until someone breaks their jaw or their neck, and then we’ll do something about it. That will be real sensible, a real smart move by the RFL.
“It’s shocking, it’s disgraceful, the attention and care for your player, I don’t think it’s acceptable, why don’t they say the shoulder charge is in, and you can attack the head of people. Gareth O’Brien has been knocked out two weeks in a row, deliberately high and late from a shoulder charge, which is supposed to be an illegal tackle.”
RFL Match commissioner, Gerry Kershaw reacted to Brown’s press conference.
“I have heard everything that Nathan Brown has said, and it is now my job to convey his comments to the Rugby Football League,” said Kershaw.
“He is clearly scathing about the disciplinary process, which has absolutely nothing to do with me. My job is to pass on his comments. He (Brown) hasn’t been abusive in any shape or form, he is clearly critical of the processes that we currently have. He won’t face any further action, he hasn’t been abusive, he’s made his points and I’ll pass them on.”
Match officials confirmed after the game that Taia was not sent from the field because the on-field referees and the video referee could not be certain about the initial point of contact with O’Brien.
After the game, Taia expressed his regret.
“When I did it in the game, I felt bad straight away,” he said.
“It was a bit of a brain explosion. It’s not part of my game, but I thought I clipped him on the shoulder first before it (the tackle) went up. We’ll see what happens with the judiciary. I apologised to him straight after the game, and he was a good bloke about it.
“I feel really bad about it, it’s not me and it’s not a part of my game. At the time, I think it was a lazy tackle. You get those moments in a game and all I can do is apologise for the tackle.”
By RICKY WILBY