Melbourne forward Jordan McLean had an additional four matches added to his suspension for the tackle that left Alex McKinnon with spinal damage because the NRL judiciary panel considered his actions were not a "significant" cause of the injury sustained by the Newcastle forward.
McLean was found guilty of a grade two dangerous throw, which carries a base penalty of 325 demerit points, but he received a seven match ban at Wednesday night's judiciary hearing after the panel deemed the 22-year-old should receive an additional 400 demerit points for the injury suffered by McKinnon.
The revelation that McLean's suspension was increased to take into account the injury has prompted criticism from some who believe that judiciary offences should be judged solely on their merit, but it is common for the match review committee to grade an offence higher if an opposition player was badly hurt.
Jordan McLean with Melbourne Storm official Mark Donaghy on Wednesday night.
In fact, Fairfax Media has learnt that McLean received only an extra four game ban for a tackle that resulted in McKinnon fracturing his C4 and C5 vertebrae and damaging his spinal cord because the judiciary panel of Mal Cochrane, Bob Lindnder and Chris McKenna felt his role in causing the injury was "right down the very end of the scale".
Had they considered he was more responsible, McLean could have expected a much lengthier ban.
After finding the Storm prop guilty of a dangerous throw, the three former players then had to decide what penalty to impose on him and were given directions from judiciary chairman Paul Conlon, a NSW District Court judge.
Conlon told them that in cases where an injury was the direct result of misconduct by another player, such as an elbow or punch that broke an opponent's jaw, it would be illogical not to impose a harsher penalty than an incident in which the victim was not hurt.
However, he advised them that the McLean case was different because his actions in lifting McKinnon's right leg to tip him off balance, while illegal, were not a direct cause of the terrible injury sustained by the Newcastle second-rower.
"In the present case, it cannot be argued simply that the misconduct of the player and lifting was the cause of injury," Conlon instructed the panel members. "You must assess whether the misconduct was 'a cause' of injury. That is not a significant cause, not a substantial cause, just 'a cause' of the injury and if so you must go on to assess to what extent it was 'a cause' of the injury."
If the panel believed that what McLean did played no role in McKinnon suffering the injury, Conlon said they should not ascribe any additional penalty but, after deciding that the tackle was a grade two offence, Cochrane, Lindner and McKenna imposed an additional 400 demerit points that equated the offence with a grade four dangerous throw.
According to NRL rules, the judiciary panel or match review committee when determining the grading for an offence can take into consideration injury as well as the need for a deterrent.
Canterbury centre Krisnan Inu would have received the same seven match ban last year for his grade four tackle on Greg Inglis, who was not hurt, but had the suspension reduced to five matches after receiving a 25 per cent discount for an early plea.
Because of the extraordinary circumstances around the case, McLean was the first player in the 17 seasons since the formation of the NRL to be referred directly to the judiciary for an offence that was not considered so bad it did not fit under the normal grading scale.
''There has been no case like this in recent memory and it was always going to be a difficult case for the independent panel,'' NRL head of football Todd Greenberg said. ''There is a process in place which was followed but it is clearly a tragic and extraordinary set of circumstance they were dealing with.''
While some tackles similar to McLean's, including one by Bulldogs forward Tim Browne in last weekend's win over Melbourne, have not even attracted a penalty, lifting is outlawed because of the potential for a player to be seriously injured and former great Steve Mortimer said, based on the aftermath, the Storm rookie could not go unpunished.
''I have watched the tackle a few times and there was no intent ... I just don’t know ... you can't give no weeks because it is probably the worst injury that has come out of a tackle,'' Mortimer said.
Former NSW and Cronulla prop Jason Stevens said he thought the penalty was harsh on McLean and expressed "concerns for his career and future".
''I personally didn't think [he should have been suspended for seven weeks],'' Stevens said. ''And I know that might sound awful considering the devastation of the tackle, which I believe was an accident. I don't think, based purely on the tackle itself, [the suspension] was warranted if you take consequences out of it.''
''It is so devastating for McKinnon’s family ... no one wins ... I'm also thinking of that player [McLean],he's a young bloke and I think it'd already be hard enough dealing with what happened. I just feel he'd personally would be going through a tough time."
with Daniel Lane