Coach Ricky Stuart claims he’s never been more confident of success in a NRL judiciary hearing as Canberra prepare to fight Jack Wighton’s shoulder charge ban.
The Raiders will contest the grade two charge at a Tuesday night hearing, with Wighton facing the prospect of missing the entire finals series, starting with Saturday’s home qualifying final against Cronulla.
“I’ve been involved in a number of cases over the years as a coach with players and this is the most confident I’ve been in regards to getting Jack off,” Stuart told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.
“We are very, very confident that when we produce our evidence tonight that they will see that a shoulder charge was not executed.”
Stuart admitted he was “gobsmacked” when he was first told about the match review committee’s decision and didn’t understand how the hit on Wests Tigers’ Joel Edwards constituted a shoulder charge.
“We play a collision game and there are going to be accidents,” he said.
“Commonsense has to be taken into account.
“We can’t just have a silly, black-and-white rule we have at the moment.”
Stuart said Wighton was doing fine despite the controversy, which he admitted had been a big distraction for his team.
“He doesn’t want to let his players down – and he hasn’t,” he said.
“I’ve controlled Jack in regards to just telling him that we’ll get him off … and then tomorrow we’ll be back to normal routine.
“It’s just been a huge distraction for two days and hopefully tomorrow I can start coaching.”
Wighton heads to the judiciary with two prior offences in the past two years.
It means that even if found he is guilty but successfully downgrades the charge, he will still spend two matches on the sideline.
If he can’t beat the charge, Wighton will miss four games and his season will be over.
Zac Santo is the likely replacement for him at fullback, with Stuart unlikely to split up the in-form centre-wing combination of Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana.
But Rapana said he was happy to fill in at No.1 if need be.
Sharks veteran Paul Gallen is among a few who have sided with the NRL’s match review committee.
He said Wighton “absolutely” charged into Edwards and knocked him out.
“There’s not a lot of duty of care taken there,” he told Sky Sports Radio’s Big Sports Breakfast.
But Gallen admitted he thought teammate Michael Ennis would also face a shoulder charge ban before he escaped sanction for a hit on Melbourne’s Blake Green.
The NRL issued a statement comparing the incidents, saying separation between Ennis’ arm and body saved him from being cited for a shoulder charge.
“I thought he (Ennis) would get charged for it,” Gallen said.
“The way it is these days I thought he might of.”
Meanwhile, Brisbane second-rower Sam Thaiday said he was bewildered by the NRL’s interpretation of the shoulder charge.
“It’s something the game will probably have a deep, hard look at the end of the year but I’m confused again as a player,” he said.