NRL Rd 20 - Dragons v Storm
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 27: Brandon Smith of the Storm passes during the round 20 NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Melbourne Storm at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on September 27, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Melbourne Storm hooker and middle forward Brandon Smith will face the judiciary on Tuesday evening in what will be one of the more intriguing punishments the NRL have been forced to hand down in recent times.

He will become the third player to be referred directly to the judiciary this season, following a sickening off the ball shot from Mitch Barnett which landed him six weeks on the sidelines, and a homophobic slur from Marcelo Montoya in a game against the North Queensland Cowboys, which put him out of action for a month.

Both suspensions seemed fair and reasonable at the time, it's Montoya's in particular which is likely to be called into contention during Smith's hearing.

How should a dissent-like comment be viewed in comparison to a derogatory comment over an issue which continues to be a major talking in modern society?

It's impossible to tell exactly where the NRL's opinion will lie on this.

While it's unlikely the Roosters-bound star will argue with the charge, and almost certain that he will take the early guilty plea to receive a week off the total charge found by the judiciary, there is also no question the NRL simply must take a hardline stance over comments of this nature.

For Smith to label the referee a "cheating ba***d" is simply unacceptable, no matter which way you cut it. The comment, granted, could have been worse, but there is no greater implication of a referee's performance than to use the word "cheat," no matter how much Smith looked as if he should have been awarded a penalty or six again for the second and third effort in the tackle as Melbourne desperately attempted to claw their way back into the game.

Dissent of officials is a major issue at all levels of the game, particularly when you consider many younger officials have given up the whistle over issues like this at junior, grassroots and amateur sporting events.

The NRL must step in to not only protect referee Adam Gee - and other referees from similar levels of dissent - but also to send a strong message that this sort of behaviour, whether from players, club officials or spectators won't be tolerated at any level of the game.

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Smith, to his credit, apologised to referee Gee both privately and publically after the game, and that will likely be taken into consideration when summing up the overall ban, but it doesn't change the fact that the NRL need to come down hard on Smith.

The fact he was referred directly to the judiciary is a start and says that he will most certainly get suspended - on a first offence for contrary conduct, Smith would have only been eligible for a fine, even with a Grade 3 charge under the NRL's new judiciary code for 2022.

However, anything less than three or four weeks simply won't be enough for the NRL to send the sort of message they need to send here.

This is a precedent-setting case, and should Smith receive any less, then it will open the playing field for two gigantic factors which have the potential to run straight through NRL and grassroots rugby league refereeing ranks.

The first is the open slather style nature of dissent to referees. While the NRL will never be matched by a sport like soccer in terms of players being able to backchat a referee, it needs to keep its respect for match officials at a high level.

The sport does this with fines in press conferences for coaches but has been seldom tasked with having to do it for an on-field incident.

The second factor - and arguably the biggest one - is the example Smith not getting a major ban will set for junior rugby league.

Kids learning to play the sport want to be exactly like their heroes. We have all been there at one point or another playing junior sport. Whether it's replicating a play, a celebration or mannerisms, kids take after their heroes when they run onto a field for their Saturday morning clash.

The last thing rugby league at any level needs is for kids to think what Smith did was acceptable. And what's more, for competitive, over-excited parents to believe behaviour like that is acceptable and become involved in such incidents against officials, who are simply faciliating the grassroots level game.

This is one of the biggest decisions the NRL have had to make in a judiciary sense for a long, long time and will set the precedent for such issues moving forward.

Melbourne fans might want Smith back on the field as soon as possible, but there are far bigger issues at play here for the good of the sport.

1 COMMENT

  1. In my world, to cheat is to deceive or defraud, and neither of those meanings seems appropriate for the referee penalising Brandon Smith. I suppose Smith meant “biased” (as in favouring one team over another; not impartial), and it’s a shame he didn’t use that: a “biased ba***d” at least has the benefit of clarity a well as alliterative assonance. Still, what do you expect from players chosen for their musculature rather than their mental acuity?

    Alright, what should the NRL issue as a punishment? Any choice of a specific number of weeks will be the wrong choice.

    First, there will be arguments about relative punishments for different offences (eg “Latrell got X weeks for smashing Joey Manu’s face” etc). Pointless and fruitless because they were different types of offence, and protagonists will be arguing about the different prices of apples and oranges.

    Secondly, giving a set number of weeks will not be memorable. At the start of next season, people and players will probably not be able to remember the exact number (in the same way that I could not remember how many weeks Lattrell received.)

    There is, in my opinion, only one suitable punishment. A punishment which will be memorable and which will show that the NRL will not accept any allegation of bias. A life ban is unsuitable; that would be excessive What would be memorable – without being excessive – would be to suspend Smith for the rest of the season.

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