"This year is the softest comp I've ever seen."
That's a statement made by NRL great and Nine commentator Phil Gould following an action-packed weekend of footy.
Gould's sensational claim about the 2021 NRL season being "the softest comp" he's ever witnessed probably couldn't come at a worse time.
Over the weekend, we were subject to arguably the most controversial moment to date this season when Latrell Mitchell was sent to the sin bin for a sickening high shot on former Sydney Roosters teammate Joseph Manu.
The reckless hit shattered Manu's cheek bone, thus ending both players' campaigns.
For Manu, he now faces a lengthy stint on the sideline recovering, while Mitchell has been slapped with a suspension meaning he misses the NRL Finals completely.
But despite all that, just a matter of days after the ugly incident, Gould has come out and dubbed the competition "soft".
"I said unless they improve [that] year they won't be going back-to-back and they'd struggle to make the finals because [the previous] year there was a soft element to that competition - and there was - there was only two or three teams that could win it, which is the same as this year," Gould said on 100% Footy.
"This year is the softest comp I've ever seen in my life."
Granted, he wasn't directly referring to the incident between Mitchell and Manu or the 'toughness' of the teams themselves.
But still, his choice of words weren't the best and if there's ever a time or a place to call the players "soft", this definitely wasn't it.
As a fan, we're left scratching our heads.
But for the players themselves, you could hazard a guess that they'd be pretty upset with Gould's remarks too.
Gould, who was in the commentary box during the Mitchell-Manu incident, voiced his initial take that there was no malice intended in the hit and that he therefore gives the Souths fullback "the benefit of the doubt".
The former rugby league coach found himself in the firing line for these comments, as well as remarks insinuating that viewers watching from home wouldn't understand the collision because they hadn't "played the game".
He has now defended those claims, slamming his critics as "childish" for thinking otherwise.
"People want to contradict me or criticise me for what I said, but I've got the courage and the conviction, I'll say what I like and I'll say what I believe, not what someone is telling me to say," Gould added. "What happened here I believe is accidental. I don't see anything here in any way, shape or form that is a deliberate act," he said.
"To suggest its thuggery is childish. To suggest Latrell Mitchell should be rubbed out of the game is childish.
"You obviously don't understand the impact of the tackle and how it can go wrong. I defy anyone to tell me Latrell Mitchell ran 30 metres across field and said, 'I'm going to knock Joey Manu out here with a shoulder'.
"The way the tackle took place with all the things that would have been going through Latrell's head as he came across the field... he has to come across and stop him. It's a heavy collision and it goes wrong.
"Manu actually ducks back in to get an offload on the inside, which takes away the protection... under Latrell he gets himself vulnerable to the collision.
"For all those that are experts... tell me what he should have done? Tell me what tackle you want him to make in that situation?
"It went wrong.
"Everyone wants to punish someone when someone gets hurt.
"I don't believe just because a man gets hurt, someone has got to be punished for it.
"In the current climate you can charge him with careless... I don't think there's any reckless intent whatsoever.
No-one wants to see the injury, but these things happen in football at high speed."
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