Favourable evidence from grand final referee Ben Cummins helped David Klemmer beat a contrary conduct charge on Wednesday night at the NRL judiciary.
Canterbury forward Klemmer was found not guilty of making illegal contact with Cummins in Thursday’s match with Penrith at Pepper Stadium.
The judiciary panel of Don McKinnon, Paul Whatuira and Bob Lindner deliberated for nine minutes before handing down a not guilty verdict.
The decision has further muddied the waters of the NRL’s crackdown on players making contact with referees.
Cummins seemingly broke ranks from the game’s governing body, of which he is an employee, to give evidence in support of Klemmer that must have held significant sway with the panel.
“I didn’t notice him making contact with me at the time,” Cummins said.
“Footage shows me rolling my eyes – this was nothing to do with him making contact with me.
“I believe it was to do with his injured teammate and the situation at hand.”
The leading whistleblower read from a prepared statement and answered questions from Klemmer’s defence counsel Nick Ghabar. He said he didn’t realise Klemmer had touched him until he was alerted to the charge laid by the match review committee at his review session the following day.
Cummins said he was attempting to prevent a possible escalation of a situation between Bulldogs forward Tim Browne and Panthers playmaker Jamie Soward, after penalising Browne, when Klemmer touched him.
Klemmer expressed his relief to waiting media post-verdict and said: “I have a great respect for the officials”.
Ghabar described the contact as “momentary, light, innocuous and minimal”.
“It was minor contact, at best,” he said.
“It would be almost ludicrous to suggest it wasn’t in the spirit of the game.
“It was an act of frivolity or foolishness. It wasn’t an aggressive or threatening act … that is a fact.
“Klemmer wanted to quell the situation. He was the peacemaker.”
In evidence, Ghabar pointed to audio in which Klemmer could be heard saying to Cummins: “we have a player down, sir”, in reference to five-eighth Josh Reynolds who was receiving treatment downfield.
Judiciary chairman Geoff Bellew stopped the hearing for five minutes at one stage and cleared the room as he queried the line of Ghabar’s questioning.
Judiciary prosecutor Peter McGrath described the contact as “avoidable”.
“It matters not that it wasn’t intimidating; it matters not that it wasn’t aggressive; it matters not the referee didn’t see it that way. You cannot touch the referee.”
However, the panel didn’t share his view.
Klemmer is free to play in the Dogs’ round-three clash with Parramatta on Friday night at ANZ Stadium.
The NSW enforcer also fronted the judiciary last month, when his “torpedo” tackle on Melbourne’s Kenny Bromwich was downgraded and he was given a one-match ban.
Earlier on Wednesday night, North Queensland prop Matt Scott was found not guilty of a crusher tackle.
Warriors forward Ben Matulino was found not guilty of a shoulder charge in the final case of the night.