Issac Luke will likely have just three games left in Warriors colours after his unsuccessful challenge of a dangerous tackle charge landed him a three-week ban at the judiciary on Tuesday night.
Luke will be sidelined for Friday's critical clash with Canberra, as well as round 21 and 22 games against Manly and the Roosters, with an extra week's suspension added to his punishment for lifting Parramatta's Dylan Brown.
The 32-year-old hooker is currently a free agent and has not been offered a new deal by the Warriors, England's Super League looming as his most likely avenue to continue his career beyond this season.
Given the Warriors' uphill battle to make the finals has now been made that much harder by Luke's suspension, the final three regular season games shape as his club swansong unless they pull off an unlikely run into the top eight.
Luke's bid to have his lifting tackle on Brown reduced to grade one would have brought his charge into the same bracket as Jake Trbojevic, who is free to play for Manly this weekend after upending Melbourne's Jahrome Hughes.
Both NRL counsel Peter McGrath and Luke's defence Daniel Thomas cited Trbojevic's tackle along with three other dangerous throws from the past year across 70 minutes of evidence.
Issac Luke on report for a dangerous tackle
Luke told the panel that his tipping of Brown was "a regular tackle for me" and that he had "released my hands and tried to meet the player on the ground … [and was] trying to make sure that he landed on his back."
But McGrath successfully argued that despite having a "high degree of control", Luke had left Brown with "very little ability to protect himself" and had acted carelessly, without the due care to avoid injury towards an opposing player.
McGrath described Luke's lifting of Brown's leg and skyward-pointing right elbow as a "classic indicator of a tipping tackle."
"[It] led to Brown's head making contact – I would argue forceful contact – with the ground," McGrath submitted.
Referencing Trbjoevic's lifting tackle, the NRL counsel argued that unlike Luke, Trbojevic's hand appeared to slip from the leg of Hughes as he lifted the Storm fullback.
"We don't have the same elevation and we don't have the same amount of lifting," McGrath said as a result, also arguing that Hughes was able to brace for contact with the ground using his hand unlike Brown.
"It is quite minimal impact with the ground, with some degree of pulling out of the tackle."
Luke's defence argued that his was the only instance of four dangerous throws shown – including Trbojevic's, a grade 2 charge against Korbin Sims from last year's finals, and grade 1 charges against Mitch Rein and Boyd Cordner – in which the tackler made a "genuine attempt" to do something about the risk of injury to their opposition.
Jake Trbojevic placed on report
Of Trbojevic's contentious tackle, Thomas argued that the Manly star's "driving motion continued throughout".
"Any ability [Hughes had] to protect himself was worse [than in Luke's case]," Thomas said.
"It was a matter of luck that it didn't end up worse."
The judiciary panel of Tony Puletua, Mal Cochrane and Sean Garlick took just nine minutes to uphold Luke's initial charge, while Match Review Committee chairman Michael Buettner was also present for proceedings.
Warriors coach Stephen Kearney said while Luke and the club understood the risk in challenging the grade 2 charge, he wants to see a review of MRC procedure as a result of several contentious rulings this year.
"It's the reality of our game, we understood the ramifications if we did try and get the charge downgraded. I am disappointed for Bully, there's no doubt about that," Kearney said on Wednesday.
"As highlighted not only out of the last week, but certainly this season, there needs to be some review and a process where we make the system better for everyone.
"But that's not a conversation for me to get into today."
Karl Lawton's return to full contact training this week should see him return from a shoulder injury as Luke's replacement against Canberra at Mt Smart Stadium.
The visitors will still be without winger Nick Cotric, who was hit with a grade three charge and sent off for upending Dragons centre Tim Lafai in round 17.
Claims of inconsistency have been levelled at the MRC over the differences between gradings for each of the tackles by Luke, Cotric and Trbojevic.
Raiders back-rower Elliott Whitehead successfully appealed his contrary conduct charge over an incident involving Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary.
Whitehead had been facing a $1500 fine if found guilty.
The Warriors must beat the in-form Raiders or risk falling three points adrift of the top eight with just five weeks remaining in the regular season.