Brisbane Broncos fullback Reece Walsh has received a three-match suspension, forcing him to miss Origin III, due to being found guilty of contrary conduct towards a match official. The incident occurred during Brisbane’s 18-12 loss to the Gold Coast Titans on Sunday. On-field microphones recorded Walsh using offensive language towards the referee after an obstruction penalty was blown. However, Walsh’s defense claimed that he was directing his remarks towards teammate Patrick Carrigan, who had advised him to be more cautious in order to avoid further penalties.
Both Carrigan and Titans forward David Fifita provided evidence via video link, acknowledging that they had spoken to Walsh about the incident beforehand. However, their testimonies were not given much weight by the judiciary due to their involvement in the situation. Fifita initially stated that Walsh had directed his comment towards the referee but later retracted that statement when questioned further. He explained that he felt intimidated by speaking to the judiciary and admitted to being nervous.
The NRL‘s counsel, Patrick Knowles, argued that Walsh’s approach to the referee to clarify that he had been speaking to Carrigan demonstrated that he knew his comments to the referee had crossed the line. Knowles also questioned whether Walsh’s outburst was a proportional response to Carrigan offering him advice. He criticised parts of Walsh’s evidence as being untruthful and incredulous, highlighting Walsh’s initial denial of complaining about the obstruction penalty when he first approached the referee.
After a lengthy two-hour and 40-minute hearing, the two-man judiciary panel, consisting of Tony Puletua and Sean Hampstead, deliberated for an additional hour but were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Judiciary chair Geoffrey Bellew SC ultimately cast the deciding vote and concluded that it was more likely Walsh had been addressing the referee and not Carrigan. The NRL‘s counsel proposed a four-match ban, while Walsh’s defense suggested a one-game suspension, before the final decision of three matches was reached.
As a result of the suspension, Walsh will miss the upcoming match against the Dolphins, Origin III, and the clash against Canterbury in round 20. In a statement to the media following the decision, Walsh expressed his disappointment but accepted the panel’s verdict. He acknowledged his role as a role model to young kids and vowed to continue working hard and improving in the areas that need attention.
The suspension comes as a blow to the Broncos, who are already without Origin prop Thomas Flegler and backrower Jordan Riki due to injuries. Riki is expected to be sidelined for 6-8 weeks with plantar fasciitis, while Flegler will be out for 3-4 weeks with a linsfrac injury. Queensland now faces the challenge of finding a replacement for Walsh at fullback, with Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and AJ Brimson emerging as the leading contenders. Additionally, winger Selwyn Cobbo could also be considered for the fullback role. Walsh’s predecessor, Kalyn Ponga, has already ruled himself out of the Origin series in order to focus on his club duties with the Newcastle Knights.