Rugby League fans have taken to social media in anger after Dolphins forward Felise Kaufusi was handed a four-game ban after failing to have his charge for a hit on Jackson Hastings downgraded at the NRL judiciary. On a busy night at the judiciary that saw Kaufusi's former Storm teammate Jahrome Hughes also fail to successfully challenge his own charge, it was the Dolphins' enforcer's case that proved the most contentious.
Kaufusi could have accepted a three-game ban but decided to try - and ultimately failed - to have his grade-two charge downgraded to a grade-one. It means the Dolphins will now be without their talismanic forward for the next four matches, starting with this weekend's maiden Brisbane derby against the Broncos. The Tongan international will also miss games against St George Illawarra, North Queensland and South Sydney.
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Ghabar said Suaalii was "grossly careless" and maintained Kaufusi withdrew his force upon making contact with Hastings which and indicated a duty of care for his opponent. However, that argument didn't wash with the panel of former referee Paul Simpkins and ex-Australian international Bob Lindner, who reached a unanimous verdict within half an hour.
Kaufusi was visibly emotional as he came to terms with his sanction. "Not at all," Kaufusi replied, when asked if his reputation had influenced the panel's verdict. "It'll take some time for this to sink in, I'm pretty disappointed with the verdict. I thought we had good grounds to fight the downgrade, but I guess the panel didn't see it that way."
The Daily Telegraph’s Paul Crawley and David Riccio both agreed that the Suaalii incident against the Warriors - which only resulted in a fine - was much worse than Kaufusi's. “Anyone with half a clue, who looks at those two tackles, they are both dangerous tackles the game doesn’t need, but there’s no way they can tell you Suaalii’s is a grade one and Kaufusi’s is a grade two,” Crawley said.
Riccio added: “I think Suaalii’s is worse, he's facing the wrong direction... you can see Kaufusi starting to pull out of the tackle." NRL legal counsel Patrick Knowles countered the argument on Tuesday night by insisting Suaalii was “not rushing up at speed”, meaning the contact by Kaufusi was more forceful.
If Kaufusi was successful in downgrading the charge, he would have escaped with a $3000 fine and no suspension. Many NRL fans and journalists were quick to pan the judiciary's verdict, labelling it "incredibly poor" and questioning the consistency of the panel.
Scott Drinkwater gets 3 weeks for shoulder charge that broke an opponent’s jaw. Kaufusi gets 4 weeks for late tackle and no injury. The judiciary needs a complete overhaul. The people on the panel who made this decision should be stood down from future hearings.
— BUZZ ROTHFIELD (@BuzzRothfield) March 21, 2023
4 weeks for Felise Kaufusi…an incredibly poor decision. Highlights the glaring inconsistency that still exists within the match-review/judiciary panels.
— Martin Lang (@Martin_Lang11) March 21, 2023
Of all the decisions across the NRL and AFL tribunals/judiciaries the Kaufusi one is the most mind boggling. 4 is way overkill
— Murray Conallin (@MConallin) March 21, 2023
— Steve (@AttungaRacing) March 21, 2023
Kaufusi and Hughes both fail in bids at the judiciary
Dolphins assistant coach Nathan Fien spoke to Wide World of Sports Radio in Brisbane just as the judiciary decision was being handed down. He admits officials at the club were surprised that their representative forward was unsuccessful on Tuesday night.
"We thought it was a really good case to present in terms of the information that we had," Fien said. "I spent a lot of time getting the defence together... [so] that's disappointing.
Hughes was also suspended for two games after losing a battle to have a similar grade-two charge reduced for a late shot on Gold Coast playmaker Tanah Boyd. The Melbourne halfback will miss games against Wests Tigers and South Sydney.
Ghabar was also forced to defend Hughes, who appeared via video link alongside Storm football manager Frank Ponissi. Hughes, like Kaufusi, rolled the dice on Tuesday in the hope he could be free to face the Tigers.
But Ghabar's argument - centred on claiming Hughes was bracing to avoid getting kicked in the face - held no sway with Lindner and Simpkins, who again backed up the match review committee's original sanction. Hughes' suspension could not have come at a worst time for the Storm, as they desperately seek to bounce back from losses to Canterbury and the Gold Coast in successive weeks.
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