RUGBY league great and Team of the Century member Ron Coote believes rule changes to the game have attributed to the tragic injury of Newcastle Knights player Alex McKinnon.
McKinnon suffered spinal injuries after a tackle against the Melbourne Storm.
Storm player Jordan McLean was found guilty by the NRL judiciary of a dangerous throw charge on Wednesday evening and given a seven-game suspension.
Shoalhaven-based Coote, who played in premiership teams with both the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Eastern Suburbs Roosters and captained his country, said the change in rules that virtually forbids a player from tackling low below the knees has led to the current tackling styles.
“As I understand it nowadays you can’t tackle below the knees, so players therefore aim more around the thigh, hip area or try to make a ball and all tackle,” he said.
“They also get a couple of players up top trying to wrestle and stop the pass getting away.
“Basically the players are often left standing upright and that makes it easier to lift the attacking player off the ground.
“In my day, players would tackle low, below the knees and it would drop players, no matter what size they were.
“The days of copybook low tackling are gone.”
Coote is regarded alongside Immortal Johnny Raper as one of the best covering defenders in the game.
“Where do we go from here? I don’t know,” he said.
“The whole incident is nothing more than a tragic accident, a serious one though.
“It is terribly sad and my thoughts are with Alex and his family.
“It is sad to see how the game is going and officials need to do something about it.
“Just what, though, I don’t know.
“The game has changed, the coaching has changed, the style of play has changed.
“The game is fantastic today, it is a great spectacle.”
As a judiciary panel member for many years Mr Coote said he didn’t think McLean’s tackle was deliberate.
“Sure there was a lifting action but I don’t think he deliberately meant for this to happen,” he said.
“It is tragic for Alex but I also feel for Jordan as well.”
Mr Coote, who is also chairman of the Men of League Foundation that supports members of the rugby league community who have fallen on hard times, said it would provide whatever assistance was required.
“Whatever we can do we will do for Alex and his family,” Mr Coote said.
“We don’t know where it’s going at this stage but we’ll be there. The game will be there for him for sure.
“There’s no two ways about it. We’ve got to be for a kid like that — for anyone whose life has changed because of rugby league.”