Gold Coast forward Ryan James has been found guilty of a high tackle on Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco, but has escaped suspension after successfully arguing for a downgrade.
In bizarre scenes on Wednesday night at the NRL judiciary at Rugby League Central, James was found guilty of a grade-two careless high tackle which broke Tedesco’s jaw in the Titans’ win on Saturday at Campbelltown.
However, James’ defence counsel Jim Hall then argued for a downgrade, but only after the prompting of panel member Royce Ayliffe.
“Hang on – we have only found him guilty,” Ayliffe said after the verdict was read out by fellow panel member Mal Cochrane.
The panel of Ayliffe, Cochrane and Chris McKenna then promptly awarded the downgrade, meaning James is free to play in the Titans’ round-24 clash with Newcastle on Saturday at Hunter Stadium.
James, who is one of the NRL’s most-penalised players, has 90 carryover points to contend with.
Titans coach Neil Henry, who sat next to James throughout the hearing, spoke on behalf of his prop after the hearing.
“We came down here, thinking the speed at which it happened (meant) it wasn’t a careless action by Ryan,” Henry said.
“The judiciary said it was on the lower end of carelessness. They took into account how fast the action happened and the fact Tedesco was dropping.
“We had a fair hearing. We’re disappointed in one regard. But the speed these things can happen at in the game means there was no malice on Ryan’s behalf.”
In giving evidence, James said he didn’t have time to adjust to Tedesco “dropping in the tackle”.
“I was running and trying to catch him in the tackle and run him back a little further,” James said.
“I dropped my body level … I couldn’t have done anything else to avoid collision.”
However, James said he did take his eyes off Tedesco just before impact.
Judiciary prosecutor Peter McGrath seized on that as an admission of carelessness.
“In the context of a rugby league game player, Tedesco did not drop dramatically,” he said.
“Taking his eyes off player Tedesco is where the carelessness lies.
“Player James did not show the special duty of care required to avoid contact with the head.
“The contact was not accidental. It was not unavoidable.”
Defence counsel Jim Hall said the contact was accidental.
“I would suggest player James didn’t have the time to change his tackle after player Tedesco turned and dropped.”