Off the Wall

It has not taken long for at least one commentator to suggest that last night's judiciary decision downgrading the charge faced by the Dragons Justin Poore is evidence that the premiership leaders enjoy "protected species" status.

While this reaction is predictable - it is also nonsense.

We have a judiciary system that is not perfect, but is certainly working in a balanced and reasonable way. It would be close to perfect if the disincentive for challenging a grading, or the actual charge itself, was taken away.

The judiciary process ought to be consistent with the application of the law generally in society. It should be transparent, it should be without bias or prejudice, and that both the" prosecution" (the NRL) and the" defence" (the player) have equal rights before the judiciary panel.

The fact that Justin Poore succeeded in getting the offence downgraded, and can therefore play this weekend should not give rise to spurious claims of favouritism...or some dark influence Wayne Bennett allegedly holds.

When a club elects to challenge a grading or a charge before the judiciary it takes a considerable risk. If it loses then the player will get a higher penalty. I have long campaigned against that - but I am getting nowhere and this one appears to be a lost cause.

But the process has improved vastly in recent years. There was a period when it was virtually impossible to win a case before the judiciary.

The chances have improved, and what is wrong with that?

The NRL's judiciary review process is headed by Graham McCallum. He was a good referee, but he is not perfect. When he "grades" a charge that is his opinion, expert opinion though it is. But he is not infallible.

The argument that somehow or other the Dragons are favoured has two significant flaws. Firstly, a second Dragons player, Beau Scott, was unsuccessful before the same judiciary last night.

And Poore is not the first, and he won't be the last, player to get a charge downgraded. Downgrading a charge is quite different from having one dismissed completely.

The fact that an increasing number of players either secure downgrades or have charges dismissed completely needs to be put into its proper perspective.

Given the disincentive in the system for taking a case to the judiciary, clubs are reluctant to do so unless they believe they have a reasonable chance of succeeding. The fact that more cases are successful should therefore be seen as not surprising.

The game is the stronger, and more transparently accountable, for a judiciary process that is actually working. We can debate the merits of individual decisions and penalties, just as the media debates decisions and penalties imposed by the judiciary in the law courts.

But to suggest that somehow last night's one win, one loss, outcome somehow proves the Dragons - under Wayne Bennett - have an inside running simply defies credibility!

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