Dragons second-rower Tariq Sims has ensured Tuesday night's judiciary hearing will be a test case of the NRL's new edict on late tackles after risking his NSW State of Origin spot by pleading not guilty to a grade 2 dangerous contact charge.
The decision can be viewed as an all or nothing move as Sims could have pleaded guilty to a grade 1 offence and been free to play for the Blues in next Wednesday night's Origin decider at ANZ Stadium if he had succeeded in gaining the downgrade.
However, the Blues interchange forward must now convince the judiciary panel that he is not guilty of dangerous contact on North Queensland five-eighth Michael Morgan during last Friday night's 22-14 win in Wollongong to be cleared for Origin III.
If Sims is found guilty, he can still contest the grading but a grade 1 charge now carries a one-match suspension as he will no longer be eligible for a 25 per cent discount on the penalty of 100 demerit points with an early plea.
Should he be found guilty of a grade two offence, Sims will miss three matches comprising of the final Origin and St George Illawarra's upcoming games against Canberra and Penrith as the base penalty is 300 demerit points, with each 100 points equating to a one match ban.
The insistence on protesting his innocence could also cost Sims $30,000 if he is rubbed out and does not receive his Origin match payment.
It is understood Sims and the Dragons had considered whether to fight the charge or seek a downgrade and sought the advice of barrister James McLeod, who is also representing South Sydney prop George Burgess in his eye-gouging case, before entering a not guilty plea.
The 29-year-old believes he has done nothing wrong and is prepared to forego an increased chance of playing in Origin by seeking a downgrade in a bid to clear his name.
Sims told Dragons officials he wouldn't be comfortable looking the former players on the judiciary panel in the eye and pleading guilty to a lesser offence when he feels he has no case to answer.
The view within the St George Illawarra and NSW camps is that he has been harshly treated and is a victim of the crackdown on crusher tackles and late shots on playmakers announced last Wednesday by the NRL.
Had he pleaded guilty, Sims would be accepting that he overstepped the mark in his tackle on Morgan as the Maroons utility passed to second-rower Shane Wright just after half-time, while the Dragons believe the incident would not have attracted a charge a week earlier.
Sims is expected to argue that the tackle was not "late and high", as Cowboys coach Paul Green declared after the match at WIN Stadium last Friday night, and that he wrapped his arms around Morgan as he made contact from the left side of the North Queensland playmaker.
He is also likely to point out that neither referee Henry Perenara or senior review official Jared Maxwell considered the tackle to be worthy of any on-field action, and St George Illawarra received a scrum feed for a forward pass after a long delay while Morgan was assessed.
However, Sims wouldn't be the first player suspended over an incident that was cleared by match officials as Sydney Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was recently found guilty of a grade one dangerous contact for a tackle on Newcastle's Kalyn Ponga that escaped any on-field action.
North Queensland players did not appear to take issue with Sims after the tackle but Green said at the post-match press conference that it was the type of incident which the NRL competition committee, of which he is a member, wanted to stamp out.
St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor was furious with Green's comments and the Dragons are perplexed that Sims has been charged while no action was taken over a tackle earlier in the season which left five-eighth Corey Norman with a fractured cheekbone.
It is understood that the match review committee viewed at least one camera angle which shows the left shoulder of Sims coming into contact with Morgan's head and that will be submitted as evidence at the tribunal hearing.
Any attempt to seek a downgrade from the grade 2 charge if Sims is found guilty will be countered by the fact that Morgan was unable to return to the match after failing a HIA for concussion, as injury is taken into account when determining grading.
The NRL last week instructed the match review committee to apply a higher grading to tackles deemed to be "forceful and unnecessary" than in the past and Sims was the first serious charge since the edict.
Blues coach Brad Fittler said: "I know they are trying to make a stance in the game and everyone understands the stance but I am just not sure this is the tackle where they need to do it".
Dragons teammates were confused by the charge as they believe Sims did nothing wrong and it would mean a change to the interpretation of a late tackle if he is found guilty.
"Usually you see an arm coming up but his arm is low and it is just unfortunate to be honest. I thought he did everything right," centre Tim Lafai said.
"That's what the coaches want their back-rowers or their forwards to do. That is just how Tariq plays. He is aggressive and that is why he is in Origin. That's what he brings.
"Hopefully they can prove his case because he did everything right. It is just unfortunate because Morgan is falling as he passes. It wasn't even late too, so I just wish him all the best."
St George Illawarra captain Cameron McInness said: "I don't understand it and I don't understand it for two reasons; firstly, if it was that bad why wasn't it dealt with on the field and secondly, I understand what the game is trying to do in terms of safety but we don't play a safe game.
"I am sorry for the mums and dads, and other family members who have their kids playing but it's a tough game and that is why we play and that is why I love it so hopefully he gets off."