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NRL hits back over Jahrome Hughes' referee push amid fury over suspension

Graham Annesley says it was the right decision to suspend Jahrome Hughes as "it's never acceptable to push a referee".

NRL head of football Graham Annesley has supported the decision to hand Storm halfback Jahrome Hughes a one-match ban, stating "it's never acceptable to push a referee". Hughes was hit with a grade two contrary conduct charge for pushing referee Chris Butler during the Storm's dramatic 30-26 win over the Warriors on Saturday night.

The halfback was defending the Storm's try line in the 58th minute against the Warriors when he found himself directly behind the official, with Rocco Berry charging towards the line. In a desperate bid to make a last-ditch tackle, Hughes decided to nudge Butler out of the way - sending the ref tumbling to the ground - so he could tackle the Kiwi centre and stop a try.

Pictured left NRL ref Chris Butler and right Jahrome Hughes
NRL boss Graham Annesley has defended the decision to suspend Storm halfback Jahrome Hughes for one game as "it’s never acceptable to push a referee". Image: Getty

On Sunday, the match review committee charged Hughes and the following day the Storm half pleaded guilty to contrary conduct offence, with the Storm not willing to risk their star playmaker missing two games if found guilty. While much of the NRL world has been up in arms over his suspension, with the likes of Michael Ennis labelling the decision to charge Hughes "absolute stupidity", Annesley says anything less than a suspension wouldn't have sufficed due to the fact he made a conscious decision to put his hands on the referee.

"In our game, for as long as it’s been played, it’s never been acceptable to push a referee," Annesley said. "There will often be incidents where referees and players will have some kind of physical contact because they bump into each other due to circumstances.

"But it’s not acceptable to physically push a referee out of the way, regardless of the circumstances. We have to ensure that the match officials are protected. No one is suggesting for a second that there was anything malicious in what took place, but whether it’s to make a tackle, whether it’s to save a try or whatever it is, you can’t take a decision to move the referee out of the way."

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The Storm issued a statement following their decision not to challenge the ruling, saying while they accept the suspension, they don't believe it is a "fair outcome" for what was an "accident". "Whilst both Jahrome and the club fully support and totally endorse the protection of referees in our game, we believe Saturday’s incident was an accident," the Storm statement read.

"Further, we believe the contact was unavoidable and the grading on the incident was too harsh given the circumstances where Jahrome was concentrating on making an important tackle in the context of the game and not fixated on the movements of the referee.

"We are disappointed that an unsuccessful challenge on the grading would have also resulted in an extra week suspension. We acknowledge the system is in place to avoid judiciary hearings but, in this case, we believe the risk of the penalty for contesting the charge is too high considering the circumstances of the incident. In the end, the threat of an extra week suspension on top of our club’s bye next weekend was the overriding factor in our decision but we don’t believe this is a fair outcome."

Jahrome Hughes will miss Melbourne's round three match against the Knights after accepting a one-match ban for pushing referee Chris Butler in the Storm's dramatic 30-26 win over the Warriors on Saturday night. Image: Getty/Fox Sports.
Jahrome Hughes will miss Melbourne's round three match against the Knights after accepting a one-match ban for pushing referee Chris Butler. Image: Getty/Fox Sports.

The Kiwi international will now miss Sunday's match against the Knights. With five-eighth Cameron Munster already out with a groin injury and unlikely to return any time soon, the Storm will be without both of their first-choice halves for the game against Newcastle. Jonah Pezet has filled in for the injured Munster to start the 2024 season, while either Tyran Wishart or Bronson Garlick will most likely replace Hughes.

NRL greats up in arms over Jahrome Hughes ban

NRL greats Brad Fittler and Andrew Johns were two of the first to condemn the NRL's decision to slap Hughes with a contrary conduct charge, stating that the halfback didn't have enough time to make a conscious decision in relation to the official and said some of the blame needed to be put on Butler.

"He is just watching (Berry). He's not even looking at the referee," Johns said on the Sunday Footy Show. "He is a bit hard done by there. We need to protect the referees, without a doubt. Especially at junior level ... but for me, that was an accident."

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