TRAVIS BURNS was accused last night of a ''get-square'' on Roosters prop Martin Kennedy, yet his only recourse will be a legal appeal. Having been found guilty of an intentional high tackle, he was given a nine-match ban.
When added to a separate charge stemming from the same spiteful clash in round 20, Burns will be sidelined for a total of 12 matches. So not only has he been handed the equal third-longest suspension in NRL history - albeit as a result of two charges - he has also been found guilty of a deliberate high tackle, something his counsel had warned was ''one of the worst'' accusations that could be levelled at a player.
In last night's case, which had been held over a week, the panel was given two very contrasting versions of the tackle. Burns insisted he had attempted a ''ball-and-all'' tackle, in a case of ''big man on small man''. It was an accident, he said. The prosecution described it as a deliberate high tackle - a ''get-square''.
During cross-examination, Burns was accused of ''smiling'' just after the tackle. NRL prosecutor Peter Kite maintained that Burns had a sense of ''mission accomplished'' after the tackle.
Burns, though, said: ''I'm trying to finish off a tackle. I didn't realise I'd made contact with the head until everyone rushed in.''
Kite said Burns could be seen ''leaping into the air with a swinging right arm, directed at the head of player Kennedy. It's a classic swinging-arm tackle. The left arm doesn't wrap at all, [while] the movement of the head to the side was to allow for the swinging arm. He didn't have to leap into the air to make a ball-and-all tackle.
''It was clearly a get-square against player Kennedy for whatever reason.''
Kite said the tackle was at worst intentional, and at best reckless. In contrast, Burns's counsel Nick Ghabar said the tackle was at worst reckless and at best careless.
''If he was going to make an intentional tackle, you would have thought he'd at least try a stiff arm,'' Ghabar said.
Burns repeatedly denied that he had deliberately hit Kennedy high. ''I was defending my try line,'' he said. ''He's a big guy, I'm on the try line, I'm thinking of a one-on-one tackle, a ball-and-all tackle - I wanted to wrap the ball up in one motion.''
Asked why he appeared to leap, Burns said: ''It was close to the line, he's a lot taller than me. I felt to do a ball-and-all tackle close to the line, I had to elevate myself to that height.''
Burns denied he had foreseen that contact would be made with the head or neck of Kennedy. Under cross-examination, Burns also denied Kite's assertion that he had been ''looking constantly at his [Kennedy's] head''.
He is a bigger man than me and I was trying to win the ball.
''I'm not looking at the head,'' Burns said. ''I'm looking at Martin, because he's running directly at me. You've got to keep your eyes on who you're tackling.''
The panel of Royce Ayliffe, Michael Buettner and Sean Garlick took less than 10 minutes to find that Burns had committed an intentional high tackle. But the prosecution's wish for a grade-three offence was rejected by the panel, which opted for the lowest grade of the intentional scale. Thus Burns was handed a 12-match ban, having already pleaded guilty to a dangerous-contact charge over a chicken-wing tackle earlier in the same game.
The utility has already served one match of his suspension.
Burns was clearly shattered. While his contract with the Panthers expires at the end of next season, there have been suggestions that he has been told that he can look for another club next year. That search would be more difficult now. Burns will serve half of his suspension this year, leaving him with a six-match ban next year.
Head down, he walked out of Rugby League Central without uttering a word. Definitely no smile.