Chad Townsend’s shoulder charge on Kalyn Ponga could cost Cronulla Sharks an NRL finals spot

I played a lot of football with Chad Townsend and I’ve never seen him do something like he did on Friday.

In fact, when I first watched the brutal shoulder charge on Newcastle fullback Kalyn Ponga, I didn’t think it was Townsend because that sort of thing is just so out of character.

Maybe a bit of frustration kicked in with the Sharks already 18 points down early in the second half and he may have been trying to change the game with a big shot and it got away from him.

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The referee blew the whistle to stop play as Townsend was charging at Ponga.

When you’re playing the Knights, Ponga always comes on the radar. As soon as you do your defensive work, the talk is all about, ‘Right, how do we limit Kalyn Ponga’s impact on the game?’

He’s a vital cog in that Newcastle side, so I’m sure there would have been some emphasis on limiting him and taking him out of the game as much as possible.

But you don’t want to do it in the wrong way — and that was definitely the wrong way.

Townsend obviously hadn’t heard the referee blowing up the play and he came off the line and absolutely drilled Ponga as he was slowing down and looking towards the ref after the whistle.

A Newcastle Knights NRL player runs with the ball tucked under his left arm as a Cronulla opponent dives to tackle him.
Kalyn Ponga is always at the top of the list when it comes to defending the Knights.(AAP: Darren Pateman)

Townsend jumped, turned, his arm was beside him; it was 100 per cent a shoulder charge and you simply can’t do shoulder charges anymore.

I think he had a brain snap, but the rules say you can’t do a shoulder charge and he’s come out and done a shoulder charge, put Ponga on his back and nearly put him on his head.

It was so strange because Townsend hasn’t got an aggressive bone in his body, but that doesn’t change the fact that he should and will spend the next few weeks on the sidelines.

He got a grade three charge for it, which is 500 points, but because he has a good record he will only have to serve three weeks.

Still, that might be enough to cost the Sharks a spot in the finals.

They are in eighth spot on the ladder.

Luckily, thanks to the Warriors’ close loss to Parramatta on the weekend, there is a four-point buffer back to the Tigers in ninth and Warriors in 10th, but the Sharks don’t have the easiest run home.

Townsend will miss the last three weeks of the regular season, when his team will play the Warriors, Roosters and then Canberra in Canberra.

The Warriors’ loss takes some of the stakes out of next week’s clash with Cronulla, but it will still go a long way to deciding the top eight, with a win leaving the Warriors only going two points out of the eight.

Chad Townsend celebrates a try for Cronulla with his Sharks teammates
Luke Lewis (centre) was shocked to see the shoulder charge by Chad Townsend (left).(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

They also then have to travel to Canberra the next week, but finish with a more winnable game against an understrength Manly side, so that final spot is definitely up for grabs at the moment.

Captain Wade Graham is also serving two weeks on the sidelines as well, for a dangerous throw, so that’s another huge loss for the Sharks because he’s a leader of that group and when he’s playing good football, they’re a really dangerous team.

The only plus is that they will get Shaun Johnson back, and they’ll probably have young Connor Tracey, who played really well for them on the weekend, in the five-eighth jersey.

So that’s going to be a new halves combination in the last few weeks of the season, which could be a downside for them or it could be a good thing.

And even if they do hang on to eighth spot, you don’t want to be going into the finals losing three games in a row, which is now a real possibility.

Luke Lewis was speaking to ABC News Digital’s Andrew McGarry.

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