NRL in head-scratching response to Harry Grant judiciary call amid 'pathetic' backlash

The NRL's head of football Graham Annesley has addressed the drama and Tuesday night's decision.

Graham Annesley says the NRL "accepts" the judiciary's landmark decision on Tuesday night to clear Harry Grant of a dangerous contact charge that left the league world incensed. However, the NRL's head of football has refused to accept that the sin-binning of the Melbourne Storm captain went too far after critics branded the call "pathetic" and "embarrassing".

The issue became a hot topic of conversation this week after Grant and the Storm decided to fight a grade-one dangerous contact charge that carried with it a $1000 fine with an early guilty plea. And after an hour-long judiciary hearing on Tuesday night, the panel found Grant not guilty of making dangerous contact with Daniel Atkinson's legs as he kicked the footy.

Pictured right to left is NRL head of football Graham Annesley and Storm captain Harry Grant.
NRL head of football Graham Annesley has refused to concede the sin-binning of Harry Grant was too harsh despite the Storm captain being cleared at the judiciary. Pic: Getty

The panel ruled that Grant's contact with the Cronulla five-eighth's foot carried a risk of injury to the kicker but felt the Melbourne hooker had not been careless in his actions and was therefore not guilty. Replays of the incident showed Grant had slowed down and altered his line in an attempt to mitigate the risk of contact, with Atkinson's right leg coming into contact with the Storm skipper as he followed through on the kick.

NRL 360 host Braith Anasta and veteran league reporter Phil Rothfield were among those to condemn the decision to sin-bin Grant and many viewers agreed the incident wasn't even worthy of a penalty in the first place. When Grant was cleared on Tuesday night, fans hailed the decision as one of "common sense" prevailing in the sport, and insisted the saga was a terrible look for the NRL.

Following the widespread backlash over the incident, Annesley denied there was an NRL refereeing crackdown on contact with kickers, despite insisting that protecting player safety remained paramount. Speaking in the wake of Grant's win at the judiciary, Annesley said the NRL accepted the decision from the panel but stopped short of agreeing with most critics that the sin-binning of the Storm star was too harsh.

“We accept the decision of the judiciary in finding Harry was not careless,” the NRL head of football said. “However, the published decision of the panel did find the action was dangerous with an unacceptable risk of injury. Last night’s decision was the system working as it was designed by providing players with the opportunity to present their case. Harry argued he was not careless, and the judiciary accepted his evidence.

“While the on-field use of the sin bin may be considered harsh in this case due to the minimal force involved, match officials will continue to treat each case on its merits and act in the interests of player safety.” While Annesley continues to insist referees have not been instructed to crack down on dangerous contact on kickers in 2024, the Grant incident is the latest in a growing list of similar cases.

Seen here, Melbourne Storm captain Harry Grant playing against Cronulla in the NRL.
Melbourne Storm captain Harry Grant was sin-binned in controversial scenes against Cronulla in the NRL. Image: Getty

Freddy Lussick was banned for four matches over a charge-down attempt on Lachlan Ilias that saw the Rabbitohs halfback suffer a season-ending broken leg in the NSW Cup. Manly's Josh Aloiai was also banned for one game over a controversial charge-down of Shaun Johnson during his side's draw with the Warriors, while South Sydney's Jacob Host and Roosters playmaker Sandon Smith have also been suspended this year.

“One thing I can clarify is that there has been no directive given to match officials or the match review committee about any supposed crackdown on incidents like that,” Annesley said earlier in the week. "That is purely a discretionary matter for referees and the bunker to use their judgement in determining what action should be taken in any incident of alleged foul play. There has been no crackdown.”


The judiciary's ruling on Grant will leave many fans scratching their heads and questioning the inconsistencies in the game after other players copped longer bans but were not even sin-binned, yet the Melbourne captain got off despite being sent for 10. “I understand what the NRL are trying to do, they’re trying to protect the players," Anasta added before Tuesday's judiciary hearing.

"But there’s got to be common sense and there’s got to be consistency. There’s no consistency and we’ve seen nine other incidents where players have not even been barely penalised let alone given 10 in the bin. Do we have any common sense in our game?”

with AAP