By NZ Herald

Kiwi NRL star Shaun Johnson has appeared to criticise rugby for sending players off for “hitting too hard” and wondered why rugby league isn’t as big as union globally.

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The Cronulla Sharks star tweeted during last night’s State of Origin decider, where Queensland upset New South Wales 20-14, about being bewildered that league isn’t a bigger sport than union, considering how the 15-man code seems to be brandishing red cards too liberally.

“Sitting on my couch watching this game wondering how this isn’t a global sport,” Johnson tweeted.

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“Am I being biased when I don’t see how a sport that has players sent off for hitting too hard is.”

Johnson, who is recovering from an Achilles tendon injury suffered in September, is likely referring to the fourth Bledisloe Cup test between the All Blacks and the Wallabies, where two players were sent off, sparking a debate about rugby’s laws on high tackles.

Both All Blacks prop Ofa Tuungafasi and Aussie rookie Lachlan Swinton were sent off and subsequently suspended for apparently accidental high shots, prompting many to argue that red cards are ruining the spectacle of rugby.

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But when it comes to global appeal, union has long had a greater reach than league.

When asked by a fan if he had ever played rugby, Johnson he did and “never enjoyed it like I did league”.

All Blacks great Sir John Kirwan was one of many calling for red cards to be scrapped from the sport altogether.

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Kirwan worried that red cards ruin the spectacle of the sport and that it may have dire consequences for the sport’s appeal.

“Our game does not need red cards,” Kirwan said on Sky Sport‘s The Breakdown. “I don’t think there’s anyone in our game that goes out intentionally to hurt someone. So if it’s a red card, they go off and someone replaces them for 15 minutes. People have paid good money to watch a game of rugby with 15-a-side. That’s my biggest issue.”

World Rugby has cracked down on high shots, but many have called out its hypocrisy when it comes to player welfare and its employment of head injury assessments.

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:

This article first appeared on nzherald.co.nz and was republished with permission

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