Soliola suspended for five weeks
The Raiders will be without Sia Soliola for the next five matches after the veteran forward was suspended for a high shot on Billy Slater in Canberra's 20-14 loss to the Storm on Saturday night.
Soliola was referred straight to the judiciary for making dangerous contact to the head/neck that rendered the star fullback unconscious as a result of the 51st minute tackle.
The 30-year-old was the first player referred straight to the judiciary since Melbourne prop Jesse Bromwich who was able to beat his biting charge back in 2015.
Judiciary Counsel Anthony Lo Surdo SC argued that Soliola had recklessly proceeded with the tackle despite having foreseen that dangerous contact may have occurred.
Using six separate camera angles to prove his case, Mr Lo Surdo put forward that Soliola had time to pull out of the challenge and that he had clear sight of Slater once he had passed the ball before he launched at the fullback with a clenched fist.
Alluding to the Storm's medical report, he declared Slater was unconscious before he hit the ground and was out cold for more than 60 seconds before he was treated by medical staff. The Storm fullback didn't know that he was at GIO Stadium, and once he was taken to the sheds on a medicab Slater had no recollection of the previous two weeks, including his involvement in Queensland's State of Origin win.
While Defence Counsel Nick Ghabar conceded that the contact was late, he refuted Mr Lo Surdo's claims that the tackle warranted a 600 demerit-point penalty once loading and discounts had been taken into account.
The defence argued the tackle was careless rather than reckless, pointing out that Slater had fallen at least 20 centimetres in the space of milliseconds as Soliola braced for contact and that it was impossible to speculate at what point the fullback has lost consciousness.
Soliola thought at the time the tackle wasn't late but conceded on further reflection that wasn't the case.
Mr Ghabar used an incident involving Newcastle forward Mitch Barnett as comparable evidence when the Knights forward was hit with a Grade 1 offence for a late shot on Luke Brooks in Round 17, with the defence counsel arguing that the Soliola incident couldn't have been six times worse.
The defence also used a character reference from Knights coach Nathan Brown who worked with Soliola at St Helens in the English Super League. Brown described him as a "talented shoulder defender" and a "genuine ambassador for the game", while Ghabar also said his client's unblemished record and the fact he had never been suspended should be taken into account.
Panel members Bob Lindner, Sean Garlick and Mal Cochrane spent roughly five minutes deliberating the case before they returned a punishment of 540 demerit points, resulting in a five-game ban plus an accruement of 40 carryover points.
Soliola is the third Raider to be suspended in recent weeks with teammates Jordan Rapana and Josh Papalii set to miss Saturday's game against the Rabbitohs.
Ironically, Soliola will make his return in Round 26 against the Storm.
"I'd like to thank the NRL for giving me a fair hearing," he said after the verdict was handed down.
"Obviously it's pretty disappointing losing five weeks, but I respect and accept the punishment that has been passed on.
"Apologies to everyone who was affected by this, especially Billy and his family and the Melbourne Storm, as well as our own fans at the Canberra Raiders.
"I know this has put a bad light on our game and I love this game because it's given me so much. I'm going to do the best I can to support this game and build the good image it's supposed to be."