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Safeguards turning rugby league into ‘fiery rugby union’ says Jon Wilkin- Serious About Rugby League

Sky Sports pundit Jon Wilkin claimed Rugby League is fast becoming like “f***ing rugby union” because of the number of safety laws that have been introduced.

Jon Wilkin retired from the sport in 2020 and in the short time since he hung up his boots, a lot has changed. Much of that change actually came in the offseason between the 2023 and 2024 campaigns, something that saw a huge adjustment period at the start of the season.

How much has Rugby League changed to become safer?

Referee Tom Grant showed Mark Percival a red card as Super League's new disciplinary laws continue to take center stage.

Credit: Imago Images

The major change focused on the height and strength of the equipment, with those laws set to go further next year and lower the legal height even further. These changes were intended to limit the number of concussions in the sport, but changing the approach technique is not as simple as it seems to men who have played the sport all their lives.

As such, the first round of Super League saw 16 infringements, but after Nu Brown’s incredibly controversial sending-off in the second round against Warrington, there was a cooling off period as the players and officials adjusted.

Part of that accommodation came after the RFL released a statement which specifically confirmed that Nu Brown should not have been sent off because he had admitted an error in the legislation.

Jon Wilkin has now highlighted this, stating: “I agree with the head injuries and they did a really good job. They went too far in the beginning, but they did a very good job. Leave him now.”

The former St Helens captain was making his comments about the bank podcast, and despite his initial praise for the current state of the game regarding boss contact laws, Wilkin continued to make outrageous claims about how safe it can be made.

“Too consumed by safety” – the bold claim of the former Saints captain

Jon Wilkin

Credit: Imago Images

Much of the talk about concussion in sport and rugby league in particular has come from the ongoing legal case where the RFL is being sued by a number of former players for failing to protect and/or inform about the dangers of the sport.

As such, securing the game has become a more difficult task than it was twenty, ten or even five years ago. In this regard, Jon Wilkin called for assurance that actually does another exercise and not just a ‘box ticking’ exercise.

He argued: “People are going to play it, so we have to find a way to ensure it that’s not just a tick box. I think we can consume optics because at Lloyd’s of London, where they derived the insurance market, as long as there are certain movements to be seen to improve safety, then it makes it more investable, more insurable.”

He then went on to make the first of several extreme suggestions, stating, “Because of the litigation hanging over the game, I feel like we’re consumed by safety right now. It’s like safety is everything. Let’s get more reckless. Fit.”

“Where does it end?” – Jon Wilkin mocks the ‘cancellation of the kick-off’ and draws a comparison to Rugby Union

Jon Wilkin

Credit: Imago Images

After his earlier comment about the current interpretation of equipment height laws hit a sweet spot, with Wilkin demanding to “Leave it now,” co-host Jenna Brooks reminded him of the impending rule changes in 2025.

To that, Wilkin replied: “I don’t think (tackle height) needs to be lowered. I think we’ve addressed head injuries and it’s dangerous and bad and it’s reduced the number of head injuries.”

Head injuries are still among the most common injuries in the game, although several players are leaving the field and have not failed Head Injury Assessments in Round 11 of Super League, including but not limited to Tex Hoy and London captain Will Lovell .

Underneath, there was quite a bit of talk about nullifying the kickoff, given that kickoffs are where concussions are most likely to happen. Last week the RFL informed the media that although kickoffs have a “high incidence rate”, most concussions occur in general play due to the limited number of concussions.

It was the concept of canceling the start that saw Jon Wilkin consider that the sanitation and safety element of the sport had gone too far, maintaining danger as the sport’s “selling point”.

He revealed: “Now there is talk of canceling the kick off, where does it end? Do the teams just stand 40 yards apart and kick each other because this is rugby union, isn’t it?

“I think safety is obviously important, but there are some jobs in life that are inherently dangerous and we can’t underestimate the appeal of that danger to our sport.”