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NRL News: Waddell, Finucane cop hefty bans, Klein axed but result won’t be reversed

Canterbury forward Corey Waddell was rubbed out for five matches for eye gouging while Cronulla veteran Dale Finucane has been suspended for two weeks over a high tackle after a busy night at the NRL judiciary.

The NRL judiciary, comprising Dallas Johnson and Bob Lindner and chaired by Justice Geoffrey Bellew, deliberated for roughly 15 minutes on Tuesday night before unanimously finding Waddell’s contact with the Gold Coast captain had been dangerous and reckless.

The match review committee referred Waddell directly to the NRL judiciary on a dangerous contact charge, meaning he had no option to enter a plea.

Waddell told the judiciary he had been attempting to bring Fa’asuamaleaui to the ground in a tackle when his arm reached over a teammate and onto the Titans captain’s forehead. He insisted he had only touched the forehead and bridge of Fa’asuamaleaui’s nose, doing so by accident and without applying pressure.

But after listening to NRL counsel Patrick Knowles, the judiciary was satisfied Waddell’s middle and index fingers had come into contact with Fa’asuamaleaui’s eye socket.

Knowles said it was “implausible” no contact had been made with the eyes given their proximity to the nose and forehead, adding there would be no reason for Waddell’s hand to be on Fa’asuamaleaui’s face in a tackle if not to apply pressure.

He presented a close-up image of the incident that the judiciary found to be persuasive.

Nicolaous Ghabar, counsel for Waddell, said video footage of the incident did not reveal whether there had been scraping or digging across the eye consistent with posing serious risk of injury. 

But the judiciary found there was risk of injury regardless of the nature of the contact with the eye.

Ghabar questioned why Fa’asuamaleaui had not been called to give evidence and given the lack of visible injury caused by Waddell’s actions, questioned whether he had played for a penalty by complaining to the on-field referee.

Knowles said the referee’s incident report was evidence enough that Fa’asuamaleaui felt his eyes had been contacted and said players would be reluctant to give evidence against fellow players due to an unwritten code.

Knowles suggested a ban of at least five matches, citing Waddell’s apparent lack of contrition and the serious nature of making contact with a rival player’s eye.

Ghabar said Waddell did not demonstrate a lack of contrition, but genuinely felt the contact was an accident.

He said the “modest level of force” and “low level contact” with the eyes were consistent with a two-match suspension, but he was unsuccessful.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 24: Corey Waddell of the Bulldogs tackles Tino Fa'asuamaleaui of the Titans with his hands on his eyes during the round 19 NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Gold Coast Titans at CommBank Stadium, on July 24, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Corey Waddell tackles Tino Fa’asuamaleaui. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Finucane escaped on-field sanction after replays revealed it was his head rather than arm or shoulder that contacted Crichton, who left the field concussed and in need of plastic surgery to repair his ear after the round-19 clash.

After unsuccessfully fighting his charge, Finucane said suspending him for an accidental head clash had set a precedent.

“I was quite surprised with the outcome, given it was an accidental offence,” he told reporters, “and given our game hasn’t seen accidental head contact sanctioned before.

“It’s going to set a precedent for our game moving forward.”

On Tuesday night, Finucane risked having his initial ban increased from two matches to three by pleading his case before the NRL judiciary, made up of former players Dallas Johnson and Bob Lindner, and chaired by Justice Geoffrey Bellew.

He told the panel as Cronulla were down by four points with less than 10 minutes remaining, he rushed out of the line towards Crichton in an attempt to stifle the Panthers’ momentum.

Finucane said given the opportunity to attempt the tackle again, he would have done nothing differently but he had since apologised to Crichton for hurting him.

PENRITH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 23: Dale Finucane of the Sharks looks at the ear of Stephen Crichton of the Panthers after the

Dale Finucane looks at the ear of Stephen Crichton. (Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

Knowles and Nicolaous Ghabar, counsel for Finucane, debated whether Finucane’s rushing out of the line at such pace was dangerous, and whether he was careless in his duty to play the game responsibly.

Ghabar said a head clash had only occurred because Crichton “dipped” and changed his position at the last moment, by which time it was too late for Finucane to adjust his tackle technique.

Knowles argued Finucane was only unable to adjust his tackle technique because he had run out of the line at such pace that he was unable to control his actions and his balance.

He argued Crichton was in a vulnerable position and if he had “dipped”, it was only to brace for impact.

The judiciary deliberated for roughly 25 minutes before determining Crichton’s injury proved Finucane had behaved dangerously, and while he was free to rush out of the line to tackle Crichton his doing so at such pace was nevertheless careless.

Ghabar successfully sought to have Finucane’s three-match suspension downgraded, arguing Crichton was not in a vulnerable position and that while his injury was graphic, his medical report indicated it was not serious.

The judiciary was satisfied that while the force of the contact was high and that there was a significant risk of injury, Crichton’s “dipping” motion had played a part in the injury that ensued.

Ghabar had sought to have the charge reclassified as grade one, but the NRL judiciary agreed to impose a grade-two charge, which constitutes a two-match suspension.

Finucane will miss upcoming games against South Sydney and St George Illawarra.

Klein pays price for bunker blunder

Ashley Klein has paid the price for his bunker blunder in the Cowboys’ controversial win over the Wests Tigers on Sunday by being dropped for Round 20.

Klein, who advised on-field referee Chris Butler to award North Queensland the match-winning penalty, has been left off all appointments for the eight matches.

It is a swift plummet down the pecking order for Klein who refereed all three State of Origin matches.

ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys has left the door open for the NRL to overturn Wests Tigers’ controversial loss to North Queensland, but says the prospect is extremely unlikely.

The Tigers remain furious over the 27-26 loss in which the Cowboys were granted the right to challenge a play in the final second before being wrongly granted a penalty.

The ARL Commission is awaiting a full report on the match, including the interpretation and application of key rules in the final seconds of the game.

Tigers players dumbfounded after last-minute loss

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

The Tigers are waiting on the report before deciding their next step, having already asked the NRL for a proper explanation and transcripts of conversations between the referee and bunker.

There remains some possibility the joint venture will appeal the result, if they believe due process had not been followed and they should have been awarded a 27-26 win.

Several other clubs are watching with interest as just four points separate the Cowboys in second spot and Parramatta in seventh.

While V’landys said there was the possibility of the points being handed to the Tigers, he did not believe that should be the case.

“What stays on the ground stays on the ground. People respect that,” V’landys said.

“I would be very doubtful it will be overturned. But, all options are open. 

“That’s one thing about this commission, we are very flexible. And we will always listen and give people due process and natural justice. 

James Tamou of the Tigers speaks with the referee

James Tamou of the Tigers speaks with the referee. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

“It’s not my decision, it will be a commission decision and I will be very surprised if it is overturned because in my opinion what happens on the ground stays on the ground.”

Trailing 26-25 with a second to play, the Cowboys were able to claim Kyle Feldt had been escorted off a short kickoff and kicked a goal from the penalty.

The NRL’s head of football Graham Annesley has since conceded the penalty should not have been awarded, with not enough evidence to suggest Tigers centre AJ Kepaoa altered his line deliberately.

But the Tigers’ main concerns centre not so much around the escort call from the bunker that the NRL have since conceded was incorrect, but the process leading up to it.

The club continue to question if the review should have been allowed to take place given no escort was called on the field, and the match at that point should have been declared over.

If they are to pursue a legal challenge for the points it is likely to begin with a request for a meeting between Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis and V’landys.

“I have spoken to the chairman of the Tigers, I understand his position,” V’landys said. 

“He is showing leadership for his fans and members and I respect that.”

“We will sit down, I have asked for a report on the game and the interpretation of the rule.”

DARWIN, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 30: Jake Arthur of the Eels catches a pass during the warm-up before the round eight NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the North Queensland Cowboys at TIO Stadium, on April 30, 2022, in Darwin, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Eels rally around Arthur

Parramatta second-rower Shaun Lane says being booed by home fans is all part of being an NRL player, after Jakob Arthur was targeted by sections of the Eels’ home crowd in round 19.

Back-rower Ryan Matterson said most Parramatta fans would never think to boo the players on their team.

“It’s not on,” he said, “It’s disappointing. You don’t want that in the game.

“You go to the game because you support your club. The majority of the fans who were there, they were cheering us and supporting us.

“It was a minute part of the crowd that might have been booing Jakey but it didn’t really affect him nor the playing group.”

Parts of the crowd booed Arthur, the son of Parramatta head coach Brad, when CommBank Stadium’s ground announcer read out the Eels’ team before Thursday night’s clash with Brisbane.

The 19-year-old is on the fringes of Parramatta’s first grade side and played five minutes off the bench in only his second game since a brief stint at five-eighth early in the season.

In April, coach Arthur moved first-choice five-eighth Dylan Brown to the centres as an injury cover and played his son there for two matches, in a move that sparked online trolling from Parramatta fans.

Eels teammates said Arthur had not been fazed by the booing and that his low social media profile had kept him shielded from negative comments.

“He copped it a little while ago,” said Lane, “but he’s a resilient kid. He doesn’t read into any of it.

“It’s part of the game. He’s going to have a bit of a target on his back by being the coach’s son. I’m sure he knows that, Brad knows that.  It’s just part of the job.”

Speculation that the Eels could lodge a complaint with the NRL about the booing incident has come to nil, the club confirming to AAP on Monday the matter would not be escalated.

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