Milking, taking a dive, simulation, flopping … whatever you call it and whatever sport you’re talking about, it’s no-one’s favourite part of the game.
Harry Kane and Neymar get dragged for it in the football world, LeBron James and Chris Paul cop hate for their efforts in the NBA, and now Daine Laurie has attracted the ire of the NRL.
The one thing Laurie has in common with those global superstars? He’s simply taking advantage of a system that has fostered faking antics.
When Laurie apparently pretended to be concussed in the 13th minute of the Tigers’ streak-snapping win over Penrith on Friday night, he was rewarded with a penalty and shot to his feet, grinning from ear to ear, the second he heard the whistle blown.
No-one is suggesting that getting slapped in the chops by Robert Jennings would tickle, but it was clear that Laurie wasn’t as hurt as he pretended to be, and the whistle only came about five seconds after the hit.
Laurie stayed down to draw attention to high contact that may have otherwise gone unnoticed because the NRL’s crackdown over the past four weeks means he’s almost guaranteed to get the penalty.
Unfortunately, it’s taken less than a month for teams to start exploiting a well-intentioned, if poorly handled, crackdown.
On Monday, NRL head of football Graham Annesley acknowledged players milking penalties was “a concern” and something he’s “not happy about”, but said it was “difficult to deal with”.
He said the match review committee could charge players with contrary conduct, but proving a player wasn’t hurt by a tackle wasn’t easy.
With tonight’s jewel in the crown, State of Origin, the league is acutely aware of how moments like Laydown Laurie look for a game that prides itself on being the roughest, toughest show in town.
But this is nothing new.
Despite famed rugby league hardnut Steve Roach proudly declaring “this ain’t soccer” when he watched Laurie’s effort, this has been going on in the NRL for a while now.
Since the crusher tackle crackdown happened, more and more players have started coming out of relatively innocuous tackles holding their necks.
When teams knew they could get the game stopped for an injury, teams found ways to use that to their advantage.
So Annesley may not be living in the here and now when he says Origin and the NRL “is all about toughness and endurance and not demonstrating to your opponent that you’ve been injured”.
“In that type of environment, it’s almost counter-intuitive that players would fake some sort of injury,” he said.
Putting aside for a moment that playing on with concussions and other injuries is exactly the sort of behaviour the league is trying to discourage, the fact is it’s not counter-intuitive at all. Laurie got the penalty and he scored a try on the back of the ensuing field position in a victory over the top team in the competition.
While it may be true that opposition players perhaps won’t take too kindly to people lying down, if it’s a game-winning play, your teammates and coaches whose livelihoods rely on winning football games will almost certainly forgive you.
Regardless, Annesley said he wanted players to “self-regulate”.
“If it’s a part of our game that’s not genuine, then players need to think long and hard about that,” he said.
“This is one of the genuine games of sport,” he added, trying to elevate NRL players above other athletes around the world, despite the past few weeks, months and years proving they are as capable as anyone of selling out to get the whistle.
New South Wales coach Brad Fittler told the Sydney Morning Herald he “hope[s] all players don’t do it”, and Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans described “a gentleman’s agreement” between the teams not to employ those sort of tactics.
Fittler, who admitted he’d taken a dive at least once back in the 90s, said he’d never coach his teams to play that way, but it almost seems a reflex for some players these days.
A head thrown back here, a clutched neck there, and with the rules and behaviour of referees as they are, all of a sudden your team has a penalty by less than honest means.
If that sort of thing can give the Blues vital field position for a try or hand the Maroons a match-winning penalty goal, are they supposed to decline the reward?
Now that would be counter-intuitive.