If an NRL player is found guilty of the heinous act of biting an opponent, six matches should be the minimum time they serve on the sidelines.
Departing Canberra star Jack Wighton will think he’s been unlucky to be handed a three-game ban at Tuesday night’s judiciary hearing but he should have been whacked with double that amount.
And an extra one for his arrogance in churlishly asking “how many games of rugby league have you played” to NRL lawyer Patrick Knowles.
Imagine the outcry if he had asked Wighton “how many law degrees do you have”.
What Wighton clearly doesn’t understand is that Knowles was being paid (a lucrative amount, as the 30-year-old Raiders does for chasing a ball around a field) to represent the interests of the NRL, to protect the image of a multibillion-dollar industry.
Very few sports have no problem with players biting each other and they tend to lose sponsors rather quickly if they’re seen to be condoning such vile acts.
Wighton claimed he didn’t bite Newcastle’s Tyson Gamble but it means he won’t be trying his luck at the gambler’s paradise of Las Vegas next year when the team he’s joining, South Sydney, takes part in the NRL’s historic double header to open the 2024 season.
He came up snake eyes with his ill-conceived retort of “how many games of rugby league have you played” after Knowles suggested Gamble had not applied any more pressure than a standard tackle
The crux of Wighton’s defence was that the incident was an accident caused by Gamble applying pressure to his mouth with his forearm after tackling the Raiders centre.
Wighton was reprimanded by judiciary chair Geoffrey Bellew SC for his snide comment.
After an 80-minute hearing, the judiciary panel of Penrith great Tony Puletua, former referee Paul Simpkins and Bellew took 20 minutes to reach their decision on a guilty verdict and then handed down a three-game ban.
Wighton, who is joining the Rabbitohs on a four-year deal, claimed during the hearing that at no stage did he bite down and there was nothing he could do to avoid his mouth being jammed into Gamble’s arm.
Wighton’s counsel Nick Ghabar did not dispute contact had been made with Gamble’s forearm. But the five-eighth claimed Gamble had applied “extreme” pressure to the back of his head and his face in wrapping his arm around him in the tackle.
“His forearm actually fell into my mouth before I could even close it,” Wighton said. “I’ve got no alternative, nowhere to go. It was full body weight, full pressure (on my head). My mouth was jammed open, not at one stage did I clench, not one little bit.”
Wighton was carrying the ball in his left arm as he was tackled with Gamble clearly forcing his forearm towards his opponent’s mouth.
But Wighton claiming he had no alternative is rubbish. His right arm was free so he absolutely had the opportunity to palm Gamble away if he indeed could not breathe.
By the way, Gamble’s arm was in contact with Wighton’s mouth for all of four seconds so if he can’t hold his breath that long, Souths should be asking questions about what kind of athlete they’ve signed.
Knowles suggested that mere pressure alone would not have created such a clear indentation on Gamble’s forearm and there was an intent to bite.
Ghabar said no intent to bite could be proven, insisting the six camera angles of the incident did not show a tightening of Wighton’s facial muscles that would be consistent with a bite.
Gamble opted against testifying before the panel to keep his schedule clear ahead of Saturday’s semi-final against the Warriors.
Ghabar suggested Gamble not giving evidence and Klein opting not to send Wighton from the field both cast doubt over the legitimacy of the biting accusation.
But Bellew discouraged the panel from giving weight to those claims.
Wighton quit rep footy mid-season which means the 30-year-old is unable to apply for Australia’s end-of-season Tests to soak up his ban.
He had been referred directly to the judiciary on a dangerous contact charge arising from the 46th-minute incident in his last match for Canberra, their 30-28 elimination final loss in extra time at Newcastle.
After a lengthy on-field debate, referee Ashley Klein chose to place the Canberra star on report rather than sending him off.
In his report which was tendered as evidence, Klein informed the panel that the mark he saw on Gamble’s arm was consistent with a row of teeth and was surrounded by what appeared to be saliva.
Former Gold Coast forward Kevin Proctor was the most recent player to be suspended for biting – the second-rower was banned four matches three years ago after a complaint from his Kiwi teammate Shaun Johnson during his stint with the Sharks.
The Raiders had requested the hearing be pushed back to Wednesday but after discussions with the NRL, both parties agreed for Wighton to appear via videolink. Wighton entered a not-guilty plea and was supported by Raiders football manager Matt Ford and chief executive Don Furner.
Gamble was tightlipped about the incident after the game.
“I want to leave that on the field. That’s footy,” he said. “It’s done and dusted, we shook hands and (Wighton) said all the best for the rest of the finals series. We’ll put it to the side and move on.”