NRL fans up in arms over 'joke' punishment after Origin brawl

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·Sports Reporter
·5-min read
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Dane Gagai and Matt Burton throw punches at one another on the left, with their brawl becoming a pile-on in the image to the right.
NRL fans were shocked to learn no players would be suspended as a result of the brawl between Dane Gagai and Matt Burton in the Origin decider. Pictures: Channel 9/Getty Images

NRL fans have been left baffled by the mild penalties handed down to Dane Gagai, Matt Burton and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui after their brawl in the State of Origin decider.

Burton and Gagai were both sent to the sin-bin for their role in the second half melee, while Fa'asuamaleuai was allowed to remain on the field.

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NSW coach Brad Fittler was furious that Burton was sent off in his post-match press conference, saying he believed his player was defending himself.

The brawl was sparked when Burton collided with Kalyn Ponga as he got up from the turf, an action not taken kindly by Gagai.

He threw several punches at Burton, a few of which connected, before Fa'asuamaleaui eventually put Burton in a headlock and the trio tumbled to the ground.

It was stacks on the mill from there, before referee Ashley Klein restored order.

On Thursday morning it was revealed all three had been charged by the match review committee.

Burton and Gagai each copped a grade two striking charge, while Fa'asuamaleaui was booked for a grade two high tackle and grade one dangerous contact.

None of the three players will be suspended however, with Burton and Gagai's charges amounting to a fine worth 23 per cent of their match fee, while Fa'asuamaleaui's charges totalled a 20 per cent deduction.

Fans felt the punishments were soft, however the NRL last year moved to weigh penalties for charges in non-club games to favour fines as opposed to suspensions.

Despite this, the likes of Daily Telegraph rugby league writer Buzz Rothfield was not alone in describing the sanctions as a 'joke'.

Fittler had already labelled Burton's sin-binning by Klein as 'ridiculous'.

“At the end of the day he didn’t initiate it, Burto,” Fittler said during the press conference.

“He’s not going to fight anyone.

“At the end of the day he’s got belted. He got penalised. We got the penalty. Then he got belted and put in a headlock and we walk out with one player down each.

“It’s a tad ridiculous. But it is what it is.”

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NSW captain James Tedesco suggested Fa’asuamaleaui should have also been sent to the bin.

“Yeah I thought so,” he said.

“I don’t know if he actually threw a punch, but I thought if he did he should have been sin-binned as well.

“That’s why he said Gagai was sin-binned because he threw punches, so I don’t know if Tino did that as well, but yeah. I asked actually and he said ....”

Fittler then interjected: “Maybe ask the refs that. Let’s not dwell on that.”

Origin games were once known for descending into all-in brawls but the NRL has taken a no-nonsense approach to fighting in recent years.

Klein's approach was consistent with what we saw in Origin II in 2020, when Fa'asuamaleaui and Payne Haas were both binned for trading blows.

Matt Burton sits on the ground after State of Origin III.
Matt Burton was despondent after NSW's loss to Queensland in the State of Origin decider. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Gagai was relieved when he learned of the news that he wouldn't miss any club games, while a crestfallen Burton struggled to comprehend the loss as he sported a big black eye.

Burton was inconsolable after the 22-12 defeat and insisted he had not sustained a fracture to his cheek or eye socket.

"Whatever happens on the field stays on the field," Burton said.

"You don't want to get sent off and it obviously affects the team.

"The ref controlled the game and that's up to his decision and that's footy.

"I'm not the ref, he makes the decisions and that's his call. It was obviously disappointing to not get the result."

With AAP

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