x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

What's it like to...break an opponent's cheekbone

Rugby league is a physical sport and if you consider you can make more than 30 hits per game, there are bound to be some casualties.

Rugby league is a physical sport and if you consider you can make more than 30 hits per game, there are bound to be some casualties. Over the course of my career I broke the bones of more than just a few opponents. I once broke John Bentley's cheekbone, an incident that sticks out in my mind for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he obviously went on to make a big name for himself, especially in rugby union with the British & Irish Lions.

And secondly, I had already warned him that I was coming and that he should look out. He was always a bit of a sledger. He had been mouthing off, saying one of my earlier tackles had been a cheap shot, when his Halifax side played my St Helens team in a league match. I warned him that he should watch his back. I saw him lining up to take the ball and timed my run just as he received it. He went to step inside, and I launched myself at him from his blind-side.

He ducked and my head went straight into his cheekbone. He was on his back and seemed like he had swallowed his tongue, so I turned him on his side and into the recovery position. He had gone flying backwards and I knew I had broken something because of the sound of the impact. As he was on his back he was choking. Five minutes later they carried him off the field, and later he was taken to hospital. It is all part and parcel of the game.

Another time I broke a Welsh player's ribs, but what I had done was within the laws of the game. When you cross that white line which marks the parameters of the field, whatever happens on that field stays on there. It is a gentleman's agreement. No matter how rash, you never take it off the field. I always remember what my dad used to tell me: it is just a game of rugby. I had tried to warn John. I always felt bad about things like that. You try to hit hard.

I'm a devout Christian, and I think it is always better to give than receive. Us Samoans are very religious people. We all grew up with it, it is central to our culture. But so is the physical contact and ferociousness you get in rugby. I cannot keep up with all these rule changes in rugby - why don't we just throw each other a ball and just hit each other? That's what I call a game. That's why I went to rugby league. It is a lot more physical. You take the hits as much as you give the hits.

I have seen John talking at two dinners since I moved to Dubai, and we are still good buddies. He always laughs about it. As long as he can do that, then I don't feel so bad. Apollo Perelini is teaching children how to tackle safely as the head of rugby at the Elite Sporting Academy, based at Repton School, Dubai.