OPINION: McKendry vs Thurston vs Klemmer – the need for consistency

On Wednesday night Penrith Panthers Sam McKendry was handed a one match suspension for touching referee Jared Maxwell in their 20-16 victory at Allianz Stadium on Monday.

It’s important to note that McKendry had carry over points from a careless high tackle charge on Josh Maguire out of the Panthers victory over Brisbane Broncos earlier this year so a ban was imminent.

With a successful challenging of the charge it was going to allow the prop forward to play in Sunday’s blockbuster at Southern Cross Group Stadium against Cronulla Sharks.

Furthermore, James Roberts and Kieran Foran earlier in the season were charged similarly with contrary conduct – contact with a match official. Both took an early guilty plea and were clear to play the next week.

The official NRL write-up on McKendry’s guilty verdict said, “Judicial council Peter McGrath successfully argued that McKendry’s role in disputing Maxwell’s decision was not his responsibility and this was evident in his pursuit of the official – where contact could have been avoided.”

In my opinion that any contact with the referee is not a good image for the game. Sam McKendry deserved to be charged by the Match Review Committee.

So it begs the question on the NRL Judiciary’s decision back earlier this season in a similar predicament.
Rewind back to round 2, a Thursday night at Pepper Stadium and David Klemmer’s 55th minute ‘contact’ with official Ben Cummins. Klemmer grabbed the torso area of the referee in disputing a decision.

Klemmer was in a similar situation to McKendry in having carry-over points from a previous charge during the pre-season which was downgraded from a Grade 2 dangerous contact high tackle to Grade 1 on challenging the decision at judiciary.

The Bulldog was facing two weeks on the sidelines with an early plea.

At the time Bulldogs fans were up in arms at Klemmer being charged, some sighting that countless other players had touched referee’s without being charged.

On that occasion “the four-man panel agreed with Klemmer’s defence team that the contact on referee Ben Cummins was “momentary and innocuous”, and that the Canterbury forward had been trying to quell tensions between teammate Tim Browne and Penrith’s Jamie Soward, with no intention of touching referee Ben Cummins.”

The wording from the four-man panel was different in both contested cases.

To the NRL Judiciary: Should it matter how deliberate or innocuous the touch was and the main point being that the referee was handled?

Then there’s the whole debate about what is, and isn’t charged by the Match Review Committee.
Johnathan Thurston in the Cowboys round 6 clash with the Panthers made contact with Ashley Klein, yet failed to make the charge sheet that week.

We can bring in automatic bans for touching the ref, just like the NRL have done so with the shoulder charge in late-2015. Unless the Match Review Committee get it right, first time, they are doomed to failure.

Now that McKendry, scapegoat or not, has been made an ‘example’ of, hopefully players are more conscious and aware of the consequences.

The game demands more consistency from the Judicial system which continues to let the game down.

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