Canterbury forward Corey Waddell has been found guilty of gouging Tino Fa’asuamaleaui’s eyes and banned for five matches.
The NRL judiciary, comprising Dallas Johnson and Bob Lindner and chaired by Justice Geoffrey Bellew, deliberated for roughly 15 minutes on Tuesday night before unanimously finding Waddell’s contact with the Gold Coast captain had been dangerous and reckless.
The match review committee referred Waddell directly to the NRL judiciary on a dangerous contact charge, meaning he had no option to enter a plea.
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Waddell told the judiciary he had been attempting to bring Fa’asuamaleaui to the ground in a tackle when his arm reached over a teammate and onto the Titans captain’s forehead.
Waddell insisted he had only touched the forehead and bridge of Fa’asuamaleaui’s nose, doing so by accident and without applying pressure.
But after listening to NRL counsel Patrick Knowles, the judiciary was satisfied Waddell’s middle and index fingers had come into contact with Fa’asuamaleaui’s eye socket.
Knowles said it was “implausible” no contact had been made with the eyes given their proximity to the nose and forehead, adding there would be no reason for Waddell’s hand to be on Fa’asuamaleaui’s face in a tackle if not to apply pressure.
He presented a close-up image of the incident that the judiciary found to be persuasive.
Nicolaous Ghabar, counsel for Waddell, said video footage of the incident did not reveal whether there had been scraping or digging across the eye consistent with posing serious risk of injury.
But the judiciary found there was risk of injury regardless of the nature of the contact with the eye.
Ghabar questioned why Fa’asuamaleaui had not been called to give evidence and given the lack of visible injury caused by Waddell’s actions, questioned whether he had played for a penalty by complaining to the on-field referee.
Knowles said the referee’s incident report was evidence enough that Fa’asuamaleaui felt his eyes had been contacted and said players would be reluctant to give evidence against fellow players due to an unwritten code.
Knowles suggested a ban of at least five matches, citing Waddell’s apparent lack of contrition and the serious nature of making contact with a rival player’s eye.
Ghabar said Waddell did not demonstrate a lack of contrition, but genuinely felt the contact was an accident.
He said the “modest level of force” and “low level contact” with the eyes were consistent with a two-match suspension, but he was unsuccessful.
The judiciary opted to hand Waddell a five-match ban in the hopes it would deter other players from committing similar offences.
He will miss upcoming games against Newcastle, North Queensland, the Warriors, Parramatta and Cronulla and will not be available for selection until the Bulldogs’ final game of the season, to be played against Manly.
© AAP 2022