The Sydney Roosters will be forced to rely on a third-string hooker to get them to the grand final after Sam Verrills was banned for two games at the NRL judiciary.
In a horror night for the Roosters, Verrills failed in his bid to have his careless high tackle charge downgraded to a fine.
The Roosters No.9 dropped his head in disappointment when the verdict was read, knowing he will miss Friday's semi-final against Manly.
He will also skip the preliminary final against South Sydney if they win, meaning he will only return if they reach the October 3 decider.
It means Trent Robinson will likely have to turn to rookie No.9 Ben Marschke, who began the year outside the Roosters' top 30 and behind Jake Friend and Verrills.
It comes after the Roosters had already lost representative prop Siosiua Taukeiaho because of a calf complaint.
Verrills could have accepted a one-game ban for the charge but his bid to downgrade it from a level-two to a grade-one has proven costly.
In an 80-minute hearing, Verrills' legal team argued the dummy-half had minimal culpability for collecting Gold Coast centre Brian Kelly's face.
Lawyer James McLeod claimed the shot was almost a without-blame rugby league incident, stating the force was caused by Kelly and Verrills' teammate Sitili Tupouniua.
Verrills did not speak during the hearing, but watched on via video link as McLeod claimed Kelly had fallen into his shoulder after charging at the line hard and deflecting off Tupouniua.
"This case is also a reminder that you can at the elite level of rugby league where you can have high contact where there is very little done wrong by the defending player," McLeod said.
"That does arise at sometimes, that is a reality."
"He is not projecting his arm forward.
"Sam has the least role in terms of the force that was generated and the outcome."
McLeod also claimed a hit from Junior Paulo in Parramatta's win over Newcastle had showed less control when he collected Kurt Mann high, only to cop a lesser grade-one charge.
The defence also made an emotional plea to the three-man panel of Ben Creagh, Bob Lindner and Dallas Johnson to understand the contact as men who had played the game.
But it took the trio just 13 minutes to disagree, siding with NRL counsel Peter McGrath's claims Verrills did not show enough care after aiming to tackle above the ball.
"That's perfectly legitimate, but it does carry with it risk of contact with the head or neck area and a higher duty of care," McGrath said.
"(He) makes directs contact with head or neck of Kelly.
"In the circumstances there is very little in the way of mitigating features that would reduce the seriousness of the tackle.
"Verrills had plenty of time to get set. Tupouniua did not push Kelly off his attacking line so Verrills was wrong footed.
"And the impact of Tupouniua did not drop (Kelly's) head level."
Australian Associated Press