Andrew Johns lashes NRL over Sydney Roosters player's punishment for 'awful' incident

The NRL legend could not believe the punishment handed to Junior Pauga.

NRL legend Andrew Johns has blasted the punishment handed down to Roosters centre Junior Pauga as too lenient after he was sent off for a high-tackle on Saturday night. The Roosters put in one of their best 80 minute performances so far in the NRL season having defeated the Bulldogs 26-8 in the pouring rain.

However, the ending of the clash took a twist when Pauga was sent straight off the field for rushing out of the defensive line and smashing Connor Tracey in the head with a swinging arm. “That’s direct contact to the head, and he’s going to leave the field here, that’s a swinging arm … that’s a bad one,” Michael Ennis said on Fox Sports commentary.

NRL legend Andrew Johns (pictured left) has blasted the punishment handed down to Roosters centre Junior Pauga as too lenient. (Images: Channel Nine)
NRL legend Andrew Johns (pictured left) has blasted the punishment handed down to Roosters centre Junior Pauga as too lenient. (Images: Channel Nine)

Fellow commentator Warren Smith added: “Tracey on the field, and there is concern quite obviously for his medical condition, don’t have to have watched a lot of rugby league to know Junior’s night is over." There was no argument from the players as Pauga trudged off the field with seven minutes left on the clock.

With Sam Walker copping 10 minutes on the sideline for a professional foul, the Roosters were down to 11 men for a number of sets and managed to keep the Bulldogs scoreless in that time. While the Roosters came away with the victory, Pauga found out he would miss four weeks for the dangerous tackle on Tracey.

However, NRL greats Johns and Brad Fittler have both agreed Pauga should be spending more time on the sideline having claimed it was one of the more dangerous tackles seen on the field in 2024. “Four weeks? A million per cent (it should have been more),” Johns said on Channel Nine's the Sunday Footy Show. “That was a stiff arm, an old-fashioned coat hanger. It’s hard to watch.”

Johns alluded to a tactic this year, which has seen wingers and centres jam in to make an early tackle, that has backfired on a number of occasions and is becoming increasingly dangerous. “When they jam from outside-in the centres and wingers to put pressure on, you’ve got to get it right,” Johns said.

“We’ve seen Maika Sivo pinged a few times, obviously we saw (Joseph) Sua’ali’i in Origin … but this one is awful,” Johns added. Fittler agreed and claimed four weeks appeared light for the swinging-arm tackle.

“I can’t see where they got the four weeks,” he added. “I’ve watched Junior this year, he has had an incredible season, but I reckon he slips just before he takes off to chase. I haven’t seen anything like this in his game but four weeks …,” he said.

Queensland great Sam Thaiday agreed Pauga got the tackle all wrong. “He got everything wrong in this,” Thaiday said. “It’s a very lazy effort and attempt at making a tackle. He deserved a send off and I think four weeks is pretty light for that type of tackle.”

Fetalaiga Pauga sent off the field.
Fetalaiga Pauga (pictured) was sent off for a horror tackle.

Pauga's incident comes only a couple of weeks after club teammate Joseph Suaalii was sent off in State of Origin Game 1 for a high shot on Reece Walsh. Suaalii took Walsh having rushed out of the line, before Walsh slightly dipped prompting the Blues centre to tackle him high.


Suaalii also received four weeks for his tackle and will miss Origin Game 2. However, many fans felt sorry for Suaalii and claimed the tackle didn't deserve a straight send off. At the time, Blues coach Michael Maguire felt the send off was a big call in the Origin arena.

"Disappointing to see him get sent off, but that's the way they called it," NSW coach Maguire said after NSW went down 38-10 with 12 players. "It's a big call at this level. Reece was falling, I'll have to have another look at it but it's a massive call."