The dreams of North Queensland to play in the finals took a massive hit when star centre Valentine Holmes was sidelined for the rest of the season following a four-game suspension ruled at an unusual judiciary hearing on Tuesday night.
Holmes could have only missed three games if he confessed guilty to a grade two reckless high tackle on Gold Coast’s Jayden Campbell, which saw him bum-rush and shoulder Campbell in the face. However, Holmes strived for the penalty to be cut down to a fee.
For the second week consecutively, the Queensland ace found himself sin-binned and indicted for a similar infringement, even though he escaped a ban in the first instance against Mitch Moses.
The committee comprising Paul Simpkins and Tony Puletua unanimously voted to uphold the grade two charge after a mystifying 60-minute hearing. The decision means Holmes won’t play unless, against the odds, the Cowboys reach the top eight.
Players usually argue about fines, but in this case, the typical approach was eschewed. The judiciary chairman Justice Geoffrey Bellew called out defence counsel Bill O’Toole on a several occasions for straying from the established judicial procedure.
Bill O’Toole unsuccessfully strived to withdraw a piece of evidence, with his argument hinged on the fact that Holmes had not seen a memo from NRL head of football Graham Annesley, sent to the clubs the previous week until Tuesday afternoon.
O’Toole, despite his case having been closed, tried to introduce fresh evidence. He conflated referral charges and downgrades, but surprisingly, judiciary counsel Lachlan Gyles SC permitted it.
Attempting to reason, O’Toole stated that Campbell was not injured and that he didn’t need to be replaced for a head injury assessment and thus, continued playing. He also hinted that Campbell had reduced his head at the point of collision.
In a similar incident, O’Toole mentioned Parramatta’s Maika Sivo‘s tackle in Round 20, but the panel dismissed it, considering both tackles had similar intensity.
Gyles highlighted the fact that Holmes actually jumped off-ground to make the tackle and this sheer force of his act restricted Holmes from lowering the point of contact.
Holmes’ suspension now secludes him from Saturday’s pivotal Queensland derby against the Broncos, and he won’t rejoin the team until the first week of finals if the Cowboys manage to squeeze in a bye before then.
In another development, Jack De Belin, a senior player from the Dragons, announced he was bitterly disappointed after his suspension stood the same, four matches, for failing to reduce a dangerous contact charge at the NRL judiciary.
De Belin could have avoided a week of the ban if he took the early guilty plea option. However, the forward rolled the dice and tried to have it reduced from a grade two to a grade one offence which would have merely led to a fine.
After a 45-minute long hearing, Simpkins and Puletua held a sit-down of around 20 minutes before upholding the charge, leaving de Belin with no chance to return before Round 27.
Ghabar defended de Belin with the argument that the tackle was a single fluid motion and that his client had not readjusted his grip before landing the weight on Tuipulotu’s left leg.
He also mentioned that Dragons prop Francis Molo played a critical role in the said tackle and hence his actions should be considered as a substantial mitigating factor leading to de Belin’s eventual fall on the Sea Eagles winger.
Replays indicated that the duo’s feet from the Dragons made contact which led to de Belin losing his balance as his right foot lifted off the ground. Ghabar maintained that this brief exertion of low-grade force warranted a grade one charge.
Gyles countered that by stating that de Belin had rendered Tuipulotu in a “position of physical vulnerability” and that “players have a special responsibility to avoid forceful contact”.
The panel, accepting this, declared the force was moderate and that there was a considerable risk of injury.