NRL 2022: Judiciary, Dale Finucane, Corey Waddell, Cronulla Sharks, Canterbury Bulldogs, Ban over head clash a game changer

NRL 2022: Judiciary, Dale Finucane, Corey Waddell, Cronulla Sharks, Canterbury Bulldogs, Ban over head clash a game changer

Sharks forward Dale Finucane has warned that teams may be forced to re-evaluate their defensive strategies after he was banned for two matches over a head clash that left Panthers center Stephen Crichton requiring plastic surgery for a split ear.

Bulldogs second-rower Corey Waddell received a five-match suspension after being referred to the judiciary on an ungraded dangerous contact charge following a gouging accusation by Titans captain Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.

The panel of former players, Bob Lindner and Dallas Johnson, was satisfied that there was contact between two of Waddell’s fingers and Fa’asuamaleaui’s eye socket.

They felt that it was particularly evident from still photographs tendered by NRL counsel Patrick Knowles, as well as footage of the incident.

A similar photo to the one submitted in evidence during Waddell’s hearing
©NRL Photos

Lindner and Johnson found Finucane guilty of grade two dangerous contact after determining that the way in which he shot out of the defensive line to tackle Crichton last Saturday night was dangerous and carried an unacceptable risk of injury.

However, Finucane claimed he was the first player suspended for a head clash and said the decision of the judiciary panel would set a precedent for future tackles.

“I am obviously extremely disappointed with the outcome, given that it was an accidental offence,” Finucane said.

“While I empathize with Stephen over the outcome and the laceration of his ear, it has set a precedent for our game moving forward.

“I was quite surprised with the outcome given that it was an accidental offense and given that our game hasn’t seen anything sanctioned before for accidental head contact. I was optimistic coming in here today. I didn’t think that the laceration would come into it.”

Crichton sent for HIA following big hit

The judiciary panel accepted the right of a defender to come off his line at speed but he must avoid forceful and dangerous contact with the opposing player.

Finucane, who wasn’t penalized or placed on report for the 71st minute incident in Cronulla’s 20-10 loss to the premiers at BlueBet Stadium, said the verdict was a game changer.

“Every week players from other sides, myself included, have a number of lacerations and bruises as a result of accidental head collisions,” the NSW Origin representative said.

“They have been unsanctioned in the past but obviously moving forward, they are now going to be sanctioning those cases.

“I don’t know if that changes teams’ tactics in terms of how they tackle or the factor of line-speed with the potential to have less time to make tackles.”

Finucane had earlier told his legal counsel, Nick Ghabar, that with the Sharks trailing 14-10 and less than 10 minutes remaining in the match, he had noticed that Crichton was the only Penrith player in a position to receive the ball.

As a result, he said Crichton was “isolated” and believed there was an opportunity to force an error by shooting out of the defensive line to put pressure on him.

The former Storm and Bulldogs star said he had felt contact with the left side of his face and the left side of Crichton’s face but no other part of his body. He said Crichton had “dipped” as he received the ball.

Crichton required plastic surgery to repair a split to his left ear

Crichton required plastic surgery to repair a split to his left ear
©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

However, NRL prosecutor Patrick Knowles said that the injury to Crichton could have been avoided if Finucane had used a conventional tackling technique.

Justice Bellew said that Lindner and Johnson had been unanimous in deciding that the contact by Finucane was dangerous as it involved an unacceptable risk of injury to Crichton.

“The unacceptable risk was brought about by the manner in which player Finucane executed the tackle, and was confirmed by the injuries sustained by the opposing player,” he explained.

“Having reached that conclusion, the panel considered whether the player
was careless or, in other words, whether he failed to play with the level of
care that responsible playing of the game requires.

“In this regard, the panel was satisfied that the player was careless, taking into account:

  • the fact that his line of attack was entirely unimpeded;
  • the complete lack of control that he displayed at the point of impact.

“The panel accepted that a defending player has every right to come out of
a defensive line at speed.

“However, the panel took the view that if a defending player makes a decision to do so, he must bear in mind the special duty on the part of all players to avoid forceful and dangerous contact with an opposing player.”

Knowles said the incident was a grade three offence, while Ghabar argued that the level of carelessness was of the lowest end of the scale.

The panel found Finucane guilty of a grade two dangerous contact, which carries a two match ban.

“The panel considered that the force of the contact was high and that the player’s lack of control at the point of impact was significant,” Bellew said.

“The panel was also mindful of the high risk of injury, the actual injury sustained to
player Crichton, which included concussion and soft tissue damage to the ear, and the necessity to impose a penalty which would promote safety on the field and act as a deterrent to other players.

“However, the panel took the view that player Crichton made a not insignificant contribution to what occurred by lowering his body at the last minute, which had the effect of altering player Finucane’s ultimate point of contact.”

Meanwhile, the panel also found that the contact by Waddell with Fa’asuamaleaui’s eye-socket area was dangerous.

Titans captain Tino Fa'asuamaleaui accused Waddell of gouging him

Titans captain Tino Fa’asuamaleaui accused Waddell of gouging him
©NRL Photos

“The panel did not accept the submission that contact of this kind can only be regarded as dangerous if it can be established if there is a raking or scraping motion across the eye,” Bellew said.

“The panel was satisfied that any contact between a finger and the eye of this kind carries with it an unacceptable risk of injury and is therefore dangerous.

“The panel took into account player Waddell’s evidence that he was aware of the placement of his hand across the bridge of the opposing player’s nose.

“The panel found that in those circumstances, player Waddell had continued to make the dangerous contact and that he had applied pressure to pull the opposing player to the ground.

“In those circumstances, the panel was satisfied that player Waddell’s actions were reckless.”

Waddell’s previous judicial record was taken into account, along with the fact that Fa’asuamaleaui had not suffered any injury.

“However, the panel was mindful of the fact that the player was found guilty of dangerous contact with the eye, and of the risk of serious injury which is created by contact of that kind,” Bellew said.

“The panel was also mindful of the need to impose a penalty which acted as a strong deterrent to other players who might be minded to act in a similar way.

“In all of these circumstances, the panel determined that the appropriate penalty was one of five matches.”

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