In a bizarre turn of events during an NRL game on Saturday, referee Ben Cummins sin-binned Marata Niukore, a Warriors forward, for allegedly slapping Titans forward David Fifita on the cheek. This decision came shortly after Titans player Mo Fotuaika was sent off for making contact with Warriors fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad‘s face with his shoulder.
If Niukore pleads guilty, he faces a one-week suspension, but if he chooses to fight the charge and is found guilty, he will be suspended for two weeks. Surprisingly, Niukore was not officially charged. However, fans watching the game were not supportive of the sin-binning, as they believed Fifita was the instigator in this situation, pushing Niukore in the face. Commentator Andrew Voss and analyst Corey Parker also voiced their disbelief at the decision. Social media was filled with similar sentiments, as fans criticised the referees and the NRL for constantly changing the rules and not allowing the players to sort things out on their own.
Despite the controversial sin-binning, the New Zealand Warriors managed to secure a 28-18 victory over the undermanned Titans. However, this was not the only puzzling decision made by the officials during Friday’s games. Penrith Panthers player Jarome Luai was charged for a high shot, despite not being sent off during the match. Luai had his hair pulled during the game and was later placed on report for leading with his shoulder into the face of Melbourne player Nelson Asofa-Solomona early in the second half. He also confronted referee Adam Gee about a slapping incident that he believed should have been punished. This marks Luai’s third offense, and if found guilty by the panel, he could face a $3000 fine or a two-match suspension.
These incidents are part of the NRL‘s crackdown on high shots and dangerous plays. Just this week, Queensland Origin player Val Holmes was suspended for the rest of the regular season after being found guilty of a high shot on Titans fullback Jayden Campbell. Similarly, Newcastle player Jack Hetherington, who has gained a reputation as a repeat offender, was sin-binned for several weeks after his latest offense.
The NRL‘s efforts to eliminate high shots from the game have been met with mixed reactions from fans and pundits. While some understand the need to prioritize player safety, others believe that the constant rule changes and intervention from officials is ruining the sport. The controversy surrounding these recent decisions only adds fuel to the ongoing debate about how the NRL should handle such incidents in the future.