Melbourne Storm’s Felise Kaufusi came out of this ugly incident last weekend, which is only half the problem for the NRL.
Melbourne Storm star Felise Kaufusi has escaped being fined by the NRL judiciary after elbowing the Roosters’ Sam Walker, but has not escaped criticism for the act.
Early in the second half of the Storm’s 26-18 win over the Roosters, Walker attempted a tackle on the Origin forward when Kaufusi fell on top of him.
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Walker’s head hit the ground and he was forced off the field for a head injury assessment, which he eventually endured and was able to continue playing.
However, after Kaufusi was banned for two weeks in 2021 for a similar incident involving Eels star Ryan Matterson, Fox League commentator Greg Alexander wondered if Kaufusi had raised his elbow before coming into contact with Walker.
“Okay, I’ll say it, I think he meant what we saw. He knew exactly what he was doing,” said Alexander.
At the time, Storm coach Craig Bellamy said, “If anything was wrong with it, the Bunker would have stepped in.”
But the judiciary threw a curveball and fined Kaufusi $1,800 for a first-class charge, which appeared to be a confession they believed he had done wrong.
Fox Leagues NRL 360 panel were dismayed that despite the NRL citing misconduct, it did not believe it was worth acting on the sidelines with time.
“Where the game has let itself down is that the Match Review Committee is fining it,” said Paul Crawley.
“So they admitted that something happened in this tackle because they gave him a first-class charge, but that first-class charge is an $1800 fine. And the Storm can challenge that in the judiciary and threaten a face fine of $2500 which is real toilet paper to these NRL clubs – it means nothing.
“But if that had started with a first class of one or two games, they wouldn’t argue if it were two or three games.”
Paul Kent agreed: “Even after we had a turnaround all summer and they threw the book away and started over, they still don’t know what they’re doing there.
“If you’ve elbowed someone on the head, which they claim to have done, it should be on the sidelines for at least some time, no fine. Whether you believe he is innocent or guilty is irrelevant in this case. The fact is, if it’s worth a charge, it’s worth a missed match for an intentional act of foul play.
“The fact is that the Match Review Committee has lost the plot. They are constantly siding with the violators rather than those who have been corrupted against them. It is unacceptable. You try to get this dirty game out of the game and you come with the soft soft penalties.”
Braith Anasta said the fine indicated that the NRL believed something was wrong and that it deserved punishment: “If he’s done something wrong, he should be suspended.”
Crawley said the NRL’s coverage of protecting players from head contact sets a precedent.
“If there are twenty this weekend, shall we release them all?” asked Crawley.
But when he speaks with Benji Marshall and James Graham, Marshall feels that Kaufusi shouldn’t have been charged at all.
“I believe he’s in a position where you’re taught that when you get tackled you find your front end, all he did was try to find his front end,” Marshall said. “The fact that Sam Walker is under him is Sam Walker’s fault. He was dominated in that tackle, it’s not Kaufusi’s fault.”
He said it was “bad luck for Walker.
But Graham agreed that the fine was the problem as the NRL hedged their bets.
“There’s either nothing to see here, or he’s standing in front of matches,” Graham said. “It’s not a fine, it’s just not. That’s just the wrong message to send.”
Graham said it would be too hard to prove intent and expected Kaufusi to get rid of it.
But after the decision was handed down and Kaufusi was acquitted, Kent struck again at the “negligent” competition judging committee and the judicial panel.
“The judiciary was involved with the players on the panel because they were expected to understand the game from the player’s point of view,” he said.
“They are negligent in that regard. The judicial panel tonight was negligent in that regard in finding him not guilty and I think the commission was negligent in not issuing a harsher sentence…
“But you know what you fight in a strong case, and I’ve seen unwinnable cases won because they’ve fought the smart cause.
“There is no doubt that Melbourne is fighting a smart case when they are in the judiciary, so well done to Melbourne and well done to Kaufusi and let’s hope we don’t see a concussion this weekend.”