NRL cops heat over serial offender’s rap sheet

NRL’s head of football Graham Annesley has defended changes made to the judicial system which have allowed some players to be charged multiple times this year, but escape suspension.

The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and NRL rushed through the changes and announced them on the eve of the 2022 season kicking off.

Under the former system, any charge by the match review committee (MRC) came with a varying number of penalty points. For every 100 points a player augmented, they would be suspended for one game.

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If a player was lumped with 80 penalty points, for example, but then was charged again and later copped another 80 points, the accrued 160 points would see them suspended for one game and still have 60 carry-over points on their card – even though neither offense in isolation carried a suspension.

But penalty points were scrapped entirely in the changes made this year. Instead, players are only fined for grade-one charges, no matter how many they bank up.

The issue is making headlines now in the wake of Melbourne prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona being handed his fifth grade-one charge for the year, for dropping his elbow onto the head of Roosters teenager Joseph Suaalii.

Despite having form in that exact area, Asofa-Solomona was offered a $3000 fine. In total this season he has been fined $11,800 by the MRC and has not been suspended once.

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That rap sheet does not include him dropping his elbow and forearm onto the face of Warriors hooker Wayde Egan – who suffered broken teeth – because the MRC did not issue a charge for that, despite league legend Andrew Johns saying it deserved a multi-week ban .

“Some players do play on the edge much more than others,” Annesley told media on Monday.

“Nelson’s not the only one in the competition… that go closer to those limits than others.

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“Where the match review committee feels there is a need for a personal deterrent – a player is pushing the boundaries on too many occasions … then the MRC has the right to say ‘you need a stronger personal deterrent, so your grade one charge will be elevated to a grade two charge’.

“If the MRC feels there’s something in our game that is becoming a trend, they can elevate charges to send a general deterrent message.”

If Asofa-Solomona had been handed five separate charges last season he almost certainly would have been suspended, probably on multiple occasions.

But Annesley defended the changes to the MRC system, claiming the committee has the power to charge the Storm prop with a grade-two offense if it feels he is stepping over the line.

“The reason the judicial code was updated was, A: it was very complicated, they were mathematical calculations to decide if a player missed a game or not… one of the reasons there was criticism of that old system was we were having players missing games – sometimes important games – for what were effectively low-level charges that did not require suspensions,” he said.

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“We have a system in place that is intended to protect players, firstly… that does require a code that incentivises players to stay within the rules.

“We want our players on the field. (But) the moment you slip into a grade-two category, you are missing game time.”

While clubs and fans do generally want to see the best players participating in big games, the flip side of the argument is monetary fines do not deter NRL stars from breaking the rules.

Most of them earn millions of dollars, and Asofa-Solomona’s salary is reported to be in excess of $600,000 per season.

That means despite coping five separate charges, he has been fined less than two per cent of his salary this year.

Annesley, though, thinks monetary fines do deter players, and he has been told so by the Rugby League Players Association.

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“I don’t believe that is the case. The players don’t like fines – that has been made clear to us by the RLPA,” Annesley said.

“They would prefer that we go back to a system where players are missing games. But who suffers from that? The fans, and the teams, with the rest of the players who haven’t done anything wrong.

“We’re talking about incidents that, frankly, in years gone by might not have even warranted a charge.”

Asofa-Solomona’s superstar Storm teammate Cameron Munster was issued a warning from the same game for dropping his elbow onto the face of Roosters halfback Sam Walker.

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