Wrestling coaches not to blame: NRL
NRL clubs are adamant the increasing use of wrestling coaches is not to blame for the current grapple tackle issue plaguing the league.
The NRL today added another guideline to the policing of grapple tackles after a new breed, which indirectly places pressure on a victim's neck and has become known as "crusher", was detected in the game.
Under the revised direction it is illegal for a player to use any part of his body to apply unnecessary pressure to a victim's head, neck or spinal column.
A poll of all NRL clubs by Australian Associated Press today discovered that more than half have employed the services of a specialist wrestling coach at some stage in 2007.
Bulldogs, Sharks, Raiders, Canberra, Gold Coast, Melbourne, St George Illawarra, North Queensland, South Sydney and Wests Tigers all admitted to using a wrestling coach.
Manly, Parramatta, Penrith, Sydney Roosters, New Zealand Warriors, Newcastle and Brisbane claim not to have worked with a specialist this year, although the Broncos did last year.
But the nine clubs who have utilised a wrestling specialist argue that it is not dangerous or linked to grappling, but rather about winning dominance in the ruck.
Melbourne football manager Dean Lance said wrestling is not a new emphasis in the NRL and has always been a key component to winning.
"We were emphasising a lot of wrestling and ground work back in the late 80s and early 90s," said the former Canberra premiership-winning lock.
"It's an integral part of the game. Unless you wrestle you don't win football games."
Canberra strength and conditioning coach Sean Edwards learnt techniques from Australian wrestling coach Shawn Willis earlier this year and continues to work with his players on their wrestling skills.
He says a grapple is the basic hold in wrestling, but not something league players are taught.
Edwards says wrestling helps players in the battle for dominance at the play the ball and should not be blamed for the grapple tackle.
"I do a lot of boxing with our football team and it doesn't mean you punch someone in the head every time you tackle them," said Edwards.
"The grapple tackle is like a choke hold really and it's a basic holding thing in wrestling.
"Obviously when someone has got you by the neck and choking the living daylights out of you, you submit.
"We work just as hard on the tackled player getting up as we do on the tackler keeping the player down."
Tigers coach Tim Sheens agreed that wrestling was beneficial to NRL sides but was not a way of teaching grapple tackles.
"It's just an element of something from another sport that can involve you in finishing dominant on the ground," said Sheens.
"We don't coach grapple tackle.
"You can wrestle a man with your arm around their body but as soon as you go to the neck area you risk them (referees) deeming it to be a grapple."
Tigers hooker Robbie Farah admits wrestling gone wrong though can lead to head contact which is deemed grappling.
"Every team has got their wrestling coaches these days and it's such an important area of the game to win the ruck in the middle," said Farah.
"On the field I don't think players notice that they're doing it. They're just doing anything they can to slow the play the ball down.
"I don't think it's a conscious thing players do to go around the head area, it just ends up that way.
"When contact is made with the head area it does get a bit frightening. I guess it's got to be clamped down."
North Queensland strength and conditioning coach Glen Murphy says their wrestling expert is warned to steer clear of grapple techniques and work more towards "dancing".
"It's more just about working people on the ground," said Murphy.
"It's something we call dancing with them. Controlling the ball while they are standing up and wrapping up the ball."
But, those clubs who don't employ a specialist all believe that correct defensive technique should be enough to win the play the ball.
As one club said: "It's a game of football, not a wrestling match."