The now infamous Round 19 produced a moment that split public opinion the very second Dale Finucane rushed out of the line to put a match changing hit on Stephen Crichton.

The large majority of those watching quickly ruled the incident as an accidental head clash, as did the referee and the video referee.

Fast forward to Tuesday night and the star Shark was found guilty of careless high contact. The Sharks did manage to have the original charge downgraded but Finucane was still struck with a two-game ban.

The result shocked many but the edict was simple; the NRL was very serious about all headknocks and would protect players moving forward.

That very edict lasted less than a week as the very same Match Review Committee who decided Finucane had to be suspended for accidental head-on-head contact, charged Jared Waerea-Hargraves with only a Grade 1 dangerous contact.

For those who missed the incident, the Roosters enforcer leaned on Manly rookie Zac Fulton with the point of his elbow, while Fulton lay helpless on the ground.

Unlike the Finucane incident, the Roosters' prop was penalized and placed on report.

Without entering the head of the Roosters hard man or knowing what he was thinking, the act looked deliberate and was delivered with purpose. It looked a simple question of “how many weeks?”

Waerea-Hargraves will instead be free to play next week after escaping with a $3,000 fine.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 13: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves of the Roosters thanks fans after winning the NRL Qualifying Final match between the Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Sydney Cricket Ground on September 13, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

For a seemingly deliberate act, that was penalised at the time, involving an elbow to a prone player's jaw and face.

The fine being as large as it was only came because of his prior charges, of which the time it would take me to list would see me far exceed any word limit.

Not for the first time this season, a player delivering a forearm or elbow to a defenceless opponent has all but been signed off on by the NRL.

Felise Kaufusi fought a very similar charge and beat it. Meanwhile David Klemmer, despite being sent off for the act, was slapped with a similar fine.

Are the NRL serious about head knocks or not?

Do they only act if the incident is replayed across world media or end in a gruesome injury as with the Finucane head clash?

Let’s not forget the fact that elbows and forearms to the face are supposedly outlawed by the game’s rules. A head clash is not.

This may, unintentionally, come across as a “poor us” piece from an admitted and passionate Sharks fan, and to a degree it is, but if the NRL is serious about protecting players, then I dare say elbows are far more deliberate than head on head contact.

Staying with the head clash, earlier this week I predicted there would be five similar incidents to Finucane’s that would see no action taken.

We’re one from one after last night Lindsay Collins saw his night ended via a brutal head clash. It came 27 minutes into his return from a similar clash in the Origin decider.

It was horrible, super unfortunate and something no one in the game, or beyond, wanted to see. It was a complete accident.

No penalty, no sighting, no suspension.

What was the difference between this moment and Finucane’s? Dale was relatively unharmed while poor Stephen Crichton ended up with a horror injury.

NRL Rd 11 - Titans v Panthers
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JULY 26: Stephen Crichton of the Panthers scores a try during the round 11 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Penrith Panthers at Cbus Super Stadium on July 26, 2020 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

The technique was the same, albeit Finucane’s with more force due to his running out of the line in an attempt to force an error. Collins went in front on and collected the defender’s head.

Not for one single second am I suggesting he should be punished. I wish the Origin forward all the very best and hope, against hope, that he is fine to play next weekend.

That said, again, are the NRL serious about protecting the head, even when a pure accidental headclash, or were they just reacting to a moment that looked very much worse than it was?

Egan Butcher, sin binned for a clean shot to the chin on James Segeyaro with just moments to run in Thursday night’s encounter, faces a one-match ban.

Alfred Smalley, an ironic name given his tremendous build, is also facing a week for a similar offence.

He almost ended the night of Sam Verrills early on with a swinging arm that landed on the button. How he stayed on the park is beyond comprehension. It was as clear a sin bin as you will ever see.

Both players will serve a week as they would be silly to fight the charges and risk a second week on the side-lines.

Two weeks, combined, for three horror shots and a head clash that I maintain should never be charged unless a player lowers his head and charges the opposition like a bull.

Following a week of complete “rah-rah” from the NRL and the judiciary about how an accidental head clash had to be suspended to protect players, it doesn’t really come across as fitting into the new edict.

Are the NRL serious about head clashes or not?

They’re certainly not serious about any semblance of consistency …


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