Fight frights: players caught on knife-edge as brawl legacy threatens their grand final dreams
Melbourne prop Bryan Norrie and Sea Eagles fullback Brett Stewart. They will be desperate to avoid any further slip-ups during the finals. Photo: Getty Images; Andy Zakeli
THE fallout from last month's brawl between Manly and Melbourne is set to continue throughout the finals, with 10 Sea Eagles and Storm players among 19 walking a judiciary tightrope during the play-offs.
Both teams had five charged but Brett Stewart, Kieran Foran, Sika Manu and Sisa Waqa return from suspension this weekend, and Michael Robertson, Bryan Norrie and Jaiman Lowe escaped bans.
However, all seven players plus Manly forwards Glenn Stewart and Darcy Lussick, who have another two matches to serve after being suspended for three games, have carry-over points and would almost certainly spend time on the sidelines if they are charged with any offence during the finals.
Walking the carry-over points tightrope ... Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Sea Eagles centre Steve Matai also has carry-over points from a striking charge that cost him a one-match ban in June after a tackle on St George Illawarra winger Jason Nightingale.
Even a grade one careless high tackle charge, which is considered the most minor offence as it carries a penalty of only 75 demerit points, would result in a suspension for most of the players with outstanding carry-over points.
In addition, the players will be liable for a loading of either 20 or 50 per cent if they are charged again.
Fight night at Brookvale
Glenn Stewart and Adam Blair were both sent off after instigating the all-in brawl. Photo: Steve Christo
If it is a similar offence, they will receive a 50 per cent loading, while a 20 per cent loading applies to non-similar offences committed in the previous two years.
The Herald understands that Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy did not want to risk prop Bryan Norrie for that reason in last Sunday night's match against Sydney Roosters and rested him even though he had escaped suspension due to a 25 per cent discount for having a clean record for the past seven years.
Neither Norrie nor any of the other players charged over the round 25 brawl between the Storm and Sea Eagles will receive such a benefit again, including Manly pair Brett Stewart and Robertson.
Stewart has 62 carry-over points, while Foran has 68 and Robertson 57.
Each of the top three teams, Melbourne, Manly and Brisbane, have players missing because of suspension after Broncos forward Sam Thaiday this week accepted a two-match ban for a dangerous throw.
Thaiday, Glenn Stewart and Lussick will not be back until the grand final if their teams win on the weekend and are given the second week of the finals off, and Storm prop Adam Blair is out for the season after receiving a five-match ban for contrary conduct and striking offences from the Brookvale Oval fight.
However, all the finals teams bar North Queensland have players facing suspension due to carryover points and loading if they are charged over any offence during the play-offs.
Of the others, Newcastle is the worst affected, as halfback Jarrod Mullen, winger Akuila Uate, centre Adam MacDougall and forward Joel Edwards have carry-over points.
Warriors forwards Ben Matulino and Ukuma Ta'ai will also take carry-over points into tomorrow night's match against Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium, while St George Illawarra and Wests Tigers each have one player - Dragons hooker Nathan Fien and Tigers prop Aaron Woods - affected.
However, players receive a reduction of five points per game they are not charged so Fien will be down to just one point if the Dragons win their next two matches and he plays.
The NRL revealed on Wednesday this season was the cleanest on record, with suspensions totalling only 37 matches for all offences bar the Manly-Melbourne brawl.
South Sydney forward Dave Taylor accounted for the longest time on the sideline due to suspension after being banned for five matches on a grade two dangerous throw and this week receiving a one-match ban for a grade one careless high tackle.
This season 70 charges were laid by the match review committee, with just three due to wrestling-related offences - a massive reduction in the 22 players charged over grapple tackles, crushers and chicken wing tackles in 2009 and nine in 2010.
Over the past eight seasons, there has been a significant fall in the number of weeks players have served in suspension with bans totaling 196 matches handed out in 2004 compared to 66 matches in 2010 and 53 so far this year.
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