Referees have been encouraged to send players off for any incident which jeopardises the safety of an opponent after NRL officials expressed concern over a number of dangerous tackles in last weekend's round of matches.
Cronulla forward Sam Tagataese was suspended for four matches after pleading guilty to a grade three dangerous throw on Warriors centre Dane Nielsen, while Parramatta's Junior Paulo was charged with a grade two dangerous throw – the same grading the tackle by Melbourne prop Jordan McLean that left Newcastle back-rower Alex McKinnon with a spinal injury was adjudged to have been.
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South Sydney prop George Burgess also pleaded guilty to a grade two dangerous contact charge for a chicken wing tackle on Manly's Steve Matai, while three other players received dangerous contact charges – including Canterbury five-eighth Josh Reynolds, who was also charged for tripping his Brisbane opposite Ben Barba.
Fairfax Media was told on Sunday that some senior NRL officials believed Reynolds should have been sent off. Referees have now been advised that they will be supported by the game's hierarchy for taking such action over clear-cut and easily identifiable incidents of foul play.
''It has always been left to the referees' discretion to determine if a player should be put on report or sent off for a serious breach,'' an NRL spokesman said. ''However, the NRL is particularly concerned about dangerous incidents where player safety is put at risk, and would support any referee sending off a player in these circumstances.
''Referees can send off a player where there is a clear case of foul or violent play – and they will be supported by the NRL if they do so. Steps have been taken to improve player safety, which is our priority area. That includes the action taken to stop punching, dangerous tackles and shoulder charges.''
Nielsen was forced from the field with concussion and is in doubt for this weekend's match against Newcastle, prompting Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah to question whether more should be done to ensure teams who lost a player due to foul play weren't disadvantaged.
Scurrah called for more frequent use of the sin bin and said a proposal for the introduction of a yellow and red card system, as used in football, had merit.
''There aren't a lot of sending-offs but I think there is certainly potential for that [the issuing of red cards] and more in the way of sin-binnings as well,'' Scurrah said.
''There seems to be a growing incidence of people being placed on report and nothing happening. And that is fine, but I think it is worth looking at the impact on the team that suffers an injury and how that team is disadvantaged there and then versus a charge that may come later.
''I am not sure of the best way to equalise the impact during the actual game but perhaps more sin-binnings is the answer.''
However, the NRL insists the sin bin should be used only for professional fouls or any other breaches of the rules.
''Any violent or foul play is best dealt with by putting the players on report or sending them off for the most serious breaches,'' the spokesman said. ''The match review committee and judiciary can then determine the most suitable penalty.
''There is already a rule in place to compensate a team where one of its players is forced to leave the field after an incident which results in a player from the opposing team being put on report.
''That player’s team receives two free interchanges [one when the player goes off and one when the player or a substitute comes back on]. Referees have the option of sending a player off or putting them on report, and we believe the system has worked well this year.''
However, Manly officials pointed out that they did not gain any benefit after losing Matai in the early stages of last Friday night's loss to South Sydney as match officials missed the tackle by Burgess that left the Kiwi centre with a shoulder injury.