Reece Walsh has been found guilty of contrary conduct and suspended for three matches, including Origin III. The incident occurred during the Broncos‘ loss to the Titans when Walsh directed a profanity-laden outburst towards teammate Pat Carrigan. Walsh, who acknowledges his role as a role model, expressed his disappointment and vowed to improve in the areas where he needs it the most.
The hearing, which lasted four hours, involved former referee Sean Hampstead and ex-Panthers forward Tony Puletua. NRL counsel Patrick Knowles called for a four-match ban, while Walsh’s lawyer Nick Ghabar suggested one match. Judiciary chair Geoff Bellew used his casting vote, resulting in a three-match suspension for Walsh. This is a blow to both the Broncos and Queensland, who will now need to find a new No. 1 for the third State of Origin game on July 12. Options for Queensland coach Billy Slater include AJ Brimson, Cameron Munster, and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow. The Broncos can request to include the final Queensland game in the penalty.
During the hearing, NRL counsel Patrick Knowles stated that Walsh’s evidence was “demonstrably untrue”. He even accused Walsh’s teammates Pat Carrigan and David Fifita, who appeared via video link to give evidence, of coordinating their stories. Carrigan initially tried to calm Walsh by saying, “calm your f—ing brain”, but Walsh did not appreciate the comment at that time. When asked if using such colorful language was common when talking to his teammates, Walsh replied, “Me and Patty have a really good relationship, that’s how we operate.” Walsh later admitted that he tends to be “erratic” on the field and someone who “plays fast and speaks fast”.
Carrigan and Fifita both hesitated to repeat the actual expletives used during the incident. Carrigan indicated that he didn’t want to offend anyone and was told by Walsh’s lawyer that it was okay to state the full words. Fifita mentioned that he tried to provoke Walsh by patting him on the head, hoping to get under his skin. He also expressed his enjoyment of seeing the two Broncos players argue. Referee Chris Butler did not include the comments in his official report but mentioned that Walsh had complained about several calls during the game and even advised the captain to address the issue with his fullback.
Walsh maintained his innocence that night and the next day in a post to his Instagram followers, where he denied directing such language toward a referee. This incident follows Walsh’s sending off in the final minute of State of Origin II for headbutting Jarome Luai and his subsequent celebration as he left the field. He kissed the Maroons jersey emblem, pointed to the scoreboard while walking past the Blues players, and received a warm reception from the fans.
In other news, Corey Horsburgh is likely to make his Origin debut in the third game as Tom Flegler is facing four to six weeks on the sidelines due to a foot injury. Flegler sustained the injury during the Broncos‘ loss to the Titans but didn’t mention it until halftime. Flegler’s injury is a mild version of a Lisfranc injury and doesn’t require surgery. Despite the setback, Broncos coach Kevin Walters expressed confidence in their middle depth and expects Flegler to return before the finals. Jordan Riki also suffered a Lisfranc injury and a stress fracture in his foot, which will result in a longer recovery period. With Flegler’s absence, Queensland coach Billy Slater will need to find a replacement for the final Origin game. Raiders player Horsburgh, who was the 19th man in the second game, is a strong contender. Another option is Christian Welch, who was the 19th man in the first game. Given that Queensland has already won the series, Slater is expected to lean towards Horsburgh. The game will be held at the Gabba, and Walters joked that some of the Broncos players were asking if he had played there since it hasn’t hosted a game since the 1950s.