With all the talk around the missing send-off rule in the AFL, referee Matt Cecchin has apparently forgotten the NRL does have one.
In the 51st minute of Melbourne’s 20-14 win over the Raiders in Canberra, superstar full-back Billy Slater had his head rocked back by a swinging arm from late-to-arrive Raiders giant Sia Soliola.
While Slater was being carefully seen to by trainers, the replay of Soliola’s high shot was shown repeatedly on the big screen at Canberra Stadium and on television telecasts.
Slater gave the thumbs up and was communicating with other players and trainers as they placed him on a board.
He eventually left the field on a medicab, while commentators both amateur and professional speculated that Soliola would be the first NRL player to get sent off in two years.
Slater gave the thumbs up and accepted an apology from Soliola while leaving on a medicab. (AAP: Mick Tsikas)
Coincidentally, the last send-off incident, in round 22 of the 2015 season, also involved a Canberra forward.
On that day, David Shillington headbutted Wests Tigers counterpart Aaron Woods and was given his marching orders, but Soliola’s hit did not elicit the same response.
One of the commentators was former Canberra captain and current ABC Grandstand expert Alan Tongue, who labelled it “huge contact”.
“It could be the end of Sia Soliola’s night,” he said.
“I know that [Slater] is falling in the tackle, but the contact is late and it’s right with the head.”
Tongue added: “He’ll be gone. I think he will be for sure.”
But Cecchin opted to allow Soliola to stay on the field, only putting him on report, prompting an immediate social media reaction.
Among a number of people questioning the severity of the punishment was Storm chief executive Dave Donaghy.
He also said he had contacted the NRL powers that be “informing them we’ll be asking the obvious question” later in the week.
But Donaghy was certainly not alone in expressing his confusion on social media …
Cameron Leslie tweet: Seriously. What do you have to do to get sent off in the #nrl ?
Gav Joshi tweet: Referees have lost the plot. That was a send off if I have ever seen one. Late and high
Cecchin and the officials left the field flanked by security and to a chorus of boos from the stands.
Whether Cecchin should have sent Soliola for an early shower under the current rules will be debated until the cows come home, but the argument that the sin bin should be used for foul play will now surely return.