MARK ‘SPUDD’ CARROLL: Booting the NRL kick-off won’t stop head knocks

MARK CARROLL
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Mark Carroll argues removing the kick-off return from the NRL won't stop concussions.
Mark Carroll argues removing the kick-off return from the NRL won't stop concussions. Credit: Will Pearce

I’ve heard a lot of dumb things in my time in rugby league, but this one is right up there.

In fact, I had to check the calendar. I thought it must be an April Fool’s Day prank.

Reports that the NRL wants to get rid of the high-impact collisions from kick-offs.

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Are you serious?

It’s the moment that has every fan in the stadium roaring and commentators frothing.

The ball is booted from the kicking tee high into the air, is caught by a little guy and handed off to a bigger guy who hurtles into the opposition.

Bodies go flying and 99 percent of the time the guy gets up and plays the ball no problem at all.

Now they want to take that away?

It would be like saying no more speccy marks in AFL.

No more bouncers in cricket.

Getting the Supercars to stick to 60 across the top of Mount Panorama.

The reason I’m fired up about this is because this was my bread and butter when I played.

That first carry from the kick-off HAD to be mine.

The first-up always had to be mine: Mark Carroll.
The first-up always had to be mine: Mark Carroll. Credit: Getty Images/Getty Images

From the moment I first watched rugby league as a kid, that’s what I wanted to do more than anything.

If the opposition kicked away from me, I’d charge over there and make sure I still made that first run.

It’s a way of making a statement. A show of intent – and it’s the same when you’re the defending team.

Whether I was playing for Manly, Souths, Penrith, NSW, Australia or the bloody London Broncos, I would always charge off the back fence and aim to make it to the 20-metre line.

If I could achieve that, then I’d given my team a great start.

It’s no different in 2024 for guys like Reagan Campbell-Gillard or Moses Leota.

You know what I still get asked by fans in the street the most?

About my collision with The Chief, Paul Harragon.

It happened way back in 1995 – Manly v Newcastle - and people still love talking about it!

The Chief wanted a piece of me because of our rivalry and told Joey Johns to send the kick-off in my direction.

The Chief was on a mission and came flying at me from the side, the impact sending me in a 360-degree spin.

Chief collected my shoulder with his chin and was asleep on the deck.

I understand the NRL wants to avoid concussions like that, but it’s not like it happens every week.

The other issue is – what’s going to replace the traditional kick-off?

I see the NFL has changed its laws for safety reasons so no player – from the kicking or receiving team – can move until the ball has either been caught or landed.

Rugby union begins with a high drop-kick which usually travels only 10-20 metres.

Then you’ve got touch football that starts with a tap on halfway.

Forgive my snoring. What boring ways to start a game.

Imagine if they make us start with a tap on the halfway line. I’ll be watching something else that’s for sure.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for player welfare.

I’ve had my share of head knocks and know the damage they can cause. I’ll share that with you in a column down the track.

But in trying to make the game safe you CAN’T change the fabric of the game.

Rugby league is built on hard hits.

The thing I find amusing is we showcased rugby league’s brutality only a few weeks ago when we started the season in Las Vegas.

Every promo to the US audience featured huge collisions. High velocity impact.

Remember the catch cry? No pads. No helmets.

In other words – we’re tough guys.

Now you want to walk that back?

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 05:  Blake Taaffe of the Bulldogs is attended to by trainers after a high tackle by Dominic Young of the Roosters during the round five NRL match between Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters at Accor Stadium on April 05, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Blake Taaffe attended to by trainers after a high tackle by Rooster Dominic Young. Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

If there’s a problem that needs addressing it’s poor techniques from the guys running the ball back and the defenders.

But here’s something to think about.

There were four concussions in the Roosters-Bulldogs game. Not one was the result of an impact after a kick-off.

So, do we ban hit-ups in general play now? Do we ban wingers jamming in on the fullback like the Roosters’ Dom Young did to Blake Taaffe from the Bulldogs. The poor kid was knocked cold … but it wasn’t from a kick-off.

We need to accept NRL is a tough sport.

We’ve already taken giant strides in dealing with concussion. It wasn’t that long ago it was a badge of honour to get up, shake it off, and get back into it.

The most attention you’d get was an old trainer with a sponge or smelling salts.

These days you’re taken from the field and assessed by a doctor for even the most minor head contact.

The NRL is flying with record crowds all over the place and TV ratings through the roof.

Why would you want to mess with the fabric of what makes our game great?

I reckon whoever thought of this collision ban has never laced on a boot.

And my message to them would be to stop it or you will kill the game.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 06: Latrell Mitchell of the Rabbitohs reacts following the round five NRL match between South Sydney Rabbitohs and New Zealand Warriors at Accor Stadium, on April 06, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
Latrell Mitchell has lost his focus to say the least. Credit: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

I’ll finish with a word on Latrell Mitchell, who I love watching play when he’s at his best.

He’s facing a 3-4 match suspension for an elbow on Shaun Johnson from the Warriors.

It’s another example of Latrell testing the system, which has been going on for a while.

You go back to all the swearing on live radio which he never apologised for and now this ridiculous charge. It’s almost like he’s looking for a spell.

I just want to see Latrell enjoying himself again and wearing that big smile we all love.

To do that he needs to cut the crap out of his game.

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