The NRL’s crackdown on touching referees has descended into further controversy after footage of North Queensland superstar Johnathan Thurston placing his hand on Ashley Klein emerged.
Just as Penrith prop Sam McKendry was found guilty of contrary conduct at the judiciary on Wednesday night, Panthers fans were taking to social media to protest the NRL’s lack of consistency over the issue.
McKendry failed in his attempt to fight a grade one charge after making contact referee Jared Maxwell in Monday’s win over Sydney Roosters and will miss this weekend’s clash with Cronulla.
The New Zealand Test prop argued he made unintentional contact with Maxwell and Panthers coach Anthony Griffin predicted there would be a lot more players charged in the coming weeks now that McKendry’s verdict had set a precedent.
Panthers fans were outraged that Thurston, who was pictured extending his hand and placing it on Klein’s chest in the 60th minute of North Queensland’s round six win over the Panthers a week and a half ago, was not charged.
The NRL has been accused of double standards after incidents involving Mitchell Moses, Trent Merrin, Corey Norman and Jamie Soward also went unnoticed by the officials while others were charged.
McKendry was the fourth player charged with touching a referee this year along with Canterbury’s David Klemmer, Parramatta’s Kieran Foran and Brisbane’s James Roberts.
Even among those charged there is a lack of consistency. McKendry’s incident looked more innocuous than Klemmer’s yet the Bulldogs prop successfully fought his citation at the judiciary.
Roberts and Foran both accepted early guilty pleas.
Griffin said it was a harsh penalty for McKendry to miss Sunday’s clash with the in-form Sharks and said a fine system should be introduced for minor infringements.
“That’d be more sensible,” Griffin said of a fine system.
“I don’t think anyone watching the game would have sat up in their lounge chair and thought that Sam McKendry had acted contrary to the conduct of the game, which is what he was charged with.
“But we respect the fact you can’t touch a referee so there’s a precedent there so I expect there’s going to be a lot more charges particularly with two referees on the field and the way things have been happening over the last five to six weeks.”