Off the Wall

The NRL certainly anticipated there would be wide criticism of the grading given to Jarryd Hayne yesterday.

Within minutes of the grading being announced it had a media backgrounder listing nine cases this season alone that are "similar" to Hayne's - all of which attracted no suspension, or a one match suspension capable of being reduced with an early guilty plea.

One has to stress "similar" as the circumstances of each case obviously differed from Hayne's case in actual detail. But the pattern is there and the argument advanced by the NRL is not an unreasonable one.

The NRL could have avoided the criticism it is predictably attracting today had the "threshold" for penalties in finals matches been above what applies during the premiership season.

It is an area the administrators are going to have to look at seriously.

Over the weekend there was remarkable agreement among commentators that the threshold for a suspension in the finals should be more that the current level - 100 points. If it was 200 points, for example, only players with a poor record, or who are charged with a high grade offence, would risk suspension during finals, let alone for the grand final.

A suspension that denies a player a place in a grand final, or even the run-up finals games, really is harsh - especially when it is for an offence that only attracts 100 points as a base. Had Hayne had more carryover points he would simply not be playing this Sunday.

The argument that a higher threshold for finals will leave to more violence is nonsense. The referrals panel would still be entitled to charge a player with an offence carrying 200 points if the circumstances justified it.

The alternative would be to go back to the old system - where a player had to appear before the judiciary regardless. That's the one I favour - but it won't happen.

The practice of giving enormous power to Greg McCallum and his review team has been in place for too long for there to be a return to the process I favour.

But that does not mean the current system should not be reviewed. And that review must include an assessment of whether the best interests of the game, players and clubs are served by a system that equates a suspension in the finals, and especially the grand final, with one during the premiership rounds.

The player who emerges with high praise from the weekend's events is the Storm's Cameron Smith. He was denied the chance to play in the 2008 Grand Final because of a suspension but has supported the grading given to Jarryd Hayne which ensures he plays this Sunday.

Readers will recall the drama that was dragged out when he was suspended last year. At least the NRL streamlined the process by bringing forward the match review process on this occasion. That needs to be the benchmark for the future.

I know there are many fans, and some of the "experts" who believe Hayne's offence should have been given a higher grading. That is always going to happen when you are allowing a panel to "grade" offences.

Greg McCallum was one of the better referees over the last 30 years or so. We should have confidence that in arriving at the decision he - and his panel - did so based on the video evidence before them.

But that does not mean the way the process operates in finals, and at origin time, is not worth having a good hard look at!

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