The frosty under-20s rivalry between Canberra and Wests Tigers is reaching breaking point, and Raiders coach Mick Mantelli has branded the Tigers a ‘‘niggly’’ team following the suspension of four players for their part in an ugly brawl on Saturday night.
Canberra forwards Tahakilu Pangai (grade-five contrary conduct) and Mitch Barnett (grade-four contrary conduct) took early guilty pleas, and subsequent three-week suspensions.
Nathan Brown and Kyle Lovett of the Tigers were hit with grade-two and grade-three contrary-conduct charges respectively. It is unknown whether they will contest the charges at the judiciary.
Barnett and Brown were sent off when the violence erupted close to full-time at Campbelltown, while Pangai and Lovett were sin-binned.
The ugly incident occurred just days after the NRL declared a hardline stance on fighting, following the Paul Gallen-Nate Myles stoush in Origin I.
Cronulla skipper Gallen was suspended for one NRL match after twice punching Myles in the head.
But given the under-20s melee was the new edict’s first test, the NRL felt compelled to send a clear message that its ‘‘ban the biff’’ stance is no bluff.
The sides have a genuine dislike for each other and there has been bad blood between them before.
Mantelli said the behaviour of his players was ‘‘totally unacceptable’’, but phoned under-20s referees boss Bernard Sutton on Monday to discuss the Tigers’ tactics over the past couple of years.
Raiders player Josh Mitchell suffered a compressed disc in his neck as victim of a shocking grapple tackle from Marika Koroibete during the Tigers’ win in round 13 last year. In the same match, an all-in brawl was sparked when Tigers player Sitaleki Akauola pulled the long hair of Raiders winger Brad Smith.
The Tigers also thrashed Canberra 46-6 in a spiteful grand final last year.
‘‘They’re a very niggly team, the Tigers, they like to get on people’s goats and little things they do during the game are bordering on infringement,’’ Mantelli said.
‘‘I rang the head of the 20s referees and explained a few things, he agreed they push things to the limit.
‘‘Obviously they are aware of it, and I just wanted to make sure they [the referees] were.
‘‘We’re not the only club that’s had dramas with this team. If you have a look at a few incidents over the past years, they’ve been involved in them.
‘‘They’re young and cocky and let you know when they’re in front, but it’s a two-way street and you can’t be up all the time.’’
Mantelli said he would hold a stern discussion with Pangai and Barnett and tell them such behaviour had no place at the club.
‘‘I will be pulling the boys aside to say it’s not part of our game, they need to learn a lesson from it,’’ Mantelli said.
‘‘What we did toward the end of the game was totally unacceptable and they’ve got to make a stance, it’s not a good look for the game.’’
While the Tigers’ Brown didn’t throw any punches in the melee, Mantelli believes his conduct after being sent off was worse than the fight itself.
Brown attempted to re-enter the field of play, and had to be restrained by teammates as he continued to berate Raiders players.
‘‘I’m just happy we didn’t carry on like the No.19 [Brown], I thought it brought more disrepute than anything,’’ Mantelli said.
‘‘I definitely know if it was one of our players he’d definitely get a talking to, if not dismissed or an in-house suspension. In saying that, it doesn’t condone what we were doing. We’re going to cop the suspensions on the chin.’’