Former Canberra Raiders prop John Lomax has compared missing a grand final to a 10-game suspension, but says the NRL judiciary must maintain consistency in its rulings and cannot make exceptions for finals football.
Lomax said Issac Luke's grand final suspension had reopened his "wounds" that arose from missing the 1994 premiership decider with the Raiders, adding he's "gutted" for the South Sydney hooker and hopeful the Kiwi international gets another chance in his NRL career.
Lomax, Roosters forward Luke Ricketson (2004) and Melbourne's Cameron Smith (2008) are players who have suffered the ignominy of missing a grand final becasue of suspension, although Ricketson and Smith were suspended for three and two games respectively.
Lomax's suspension was for one match only - the grand final - after being sent off for a high shot on North Sydney Bears forward Billy Moore in the 1994 preliminary final.
The idea of suspended sentences has been floated for minor offences to allow players to take part in grand finals, but Lomax said it was a dangerous precedent to make exceptions for finals.
"You've got to make the game the same as any other, you can't let blokes get away with a bit more in the finals series," Lomax said. "In saying that, State of Origin and international games you question some of the rulings they make in those. You see there's a bit of give-and-take in those, you want consistency more than anything.
"To miss one week is pretty daunting for anything, but the grand final is the culmination of the season, that's like 10 games ... I don't know what to say to the poor kid, I'm pretty gutted for him."
Lomax and Luke went to the same Wellington school, Wainuiomata College, and know each other personally through work with New Zealand Maori representative teams.
While the loss of Luke and injured Bulldogs skipper Michael Ennis will even up Sunday's NRL grand final, Lomax expected the Bunnies to lift because of Luke's suspension.
He said Luke needed to play a positive role in the preparation, especially if rookie hooker Apisai Koroisau was elevated as expected to take Luke's place in the squad.
Lomax said it would be tough, given Luke has played for the Rabbitohs since 2007 and South Sydney is contesting its first grand final in 43 years.
"With Issac Luke I think they were favourites to win it, this probably evens up the game with he and Michael Ennis being out ... I definitely think Souths are going to lift with not having Bully [Luke] there," Lomax said.
"I know how he's feeling, he'd be gutted at the moment and think the world hates him. I can imagine that banking up in him, but he's got to stay strong and show support for the boys who still have the game in front of them. He's got to be positive at training, but it can be hard because you have so many negative thoughts.
"Speaking to Koroisau is especially very important, making sure he's on his game, then trying to instil something positive into the boys."
The Raiders went to great lengths to try and clear Lomax, calling in a biomechanics expert to argue Lomax's arm had made initial contact with the ball and rebounded up. They also said Lomax had been concussed in a high tackle from Bears prop Tony Hearn just minutes before.
Lomax, who was Canberra's Player of the Year in 1994, said his teammates had made him feel part of the premiership win, inviting him on to the medal dais at the end of the match. Although he played in three more finals matches for the Raiders, Lomax admitted he'd been haunted by not getting another shot at a grand final.
"A lot of people just remember me for that [missed grand final], it's reopened some wounds for me. I've been through the same bloomin' controversial situation he [Luke] did. I tried to fight it, like he did, but in the end you take the consequences. You sort of hate the world for not letting you play in it.
"I just hope he gets the opportunity again. That's something that always stuck with me, I played finals again but never got the opportunity to play in a grand final."