NRL head of football Graham Annesley has responded to claims of judiciary inconsistency by explaining how prior offences greatly contributed to Latrell Mitchell's controversial four-match suspension.
Annesley also clarified the difference between a free substitution for a victim of foul play and the new 18th man interchange rule.
South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett and Channel Nine's Phil Gould criticised the judicial process after Mitchell failed to have a grade-two dangerous contact (head/neck) charge downgraded on Tuesday night.
Bennett suggested the judiciary was influenced by the media focus on Mitchell's hit on Wests Tigers winger David Nofoaluma and branded the length of his ban "so unfair", according to a Fairfax report.
The Rabbitohs fullback, who was leading the Dally M Medal count on 13 votes but is now ineligible for the best-and-fairest award, was hoping to miss one match with a successful downgrade.
"Most of the [negative] comments seem to focus on the penalty of four matches," Annesley told NRL.com.
"The only reason that it's four matches is because Latrell had two prior [non-similar] offences in the last two years. The system is designed to take harsher action against players with poor records.
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"If he hadn't had those prior offences, he could've got out of that with two weeks. It's not necessarily the system that has given the four-week outcome - it's the prior offences that have compounded the initial penalty."
Twenty percent loading is applied if an offending player has committed a non-similar offence in the past two years. That increases to 50 percent for similar offences.
In Mitchell's case, his two non-similar offences resulted in 20 percent loading being applied twice – bumping his penalty up from a base charge of 300 points (three games) for grade-two dangerous contact to the head/neck to 420 points (four games and 20 carryover points).
If he didn't have those prior offences and took an early guilty plea - which entitles the player to a 25 percent discount in demerit points - Mitchell would only be missing two matches.
"People can say that the compounding factor is wrong - that's obviously a matter of opinion - but that's been the basis of the system now for probably the last 20 years," Annesley said.
"That's the way it was designed - to provide a disincentive for players getting repeatedly charged for incidents. And, of course, we'll review things at the end of the year as we always do."
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Annesley added that consistency from the match review committee and the judiciary "relates purely to grading" of charges.
"It doesn't relate to outcome because outcome is a calculation based on other factors like prior offences, for example," he continued.
"What the match review committee have to do is make sure that all Grade 1s as much as possible, are similar, all Grade 2s, as much as possible, are similar, and Grade 3s are similar. They don't look at the final outcome … That just becomes an automatic outcome.
"I'm happy the system worked the way it was intended to work in terms of the calculation of the penalty. And I obviously support the match review committee doing everything they can to protect players from contact with the head and neck.
"They will continue to take a hard-line approach to unnecessary contact to the head and neck.
"Do they always pick up every incident and do they always grade it correctly? Well, that's for individuals to form their own opinion. But I'm not going to suggest they get everything 100 percent right because I disagree with their opinion from time to time as well."
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Bennett has called for transparent judiciary hearings. Annesley said the NRL seriously considered implementing public live-streaming last year before COVID-19 intervened but it remains a possibility in the future.
"There are some logistical issues but they are certainly not issues that would prevent it from happening," Annesley said, though it's unlikely to come into effect this season as the ARL Commission would need to approve the change.
Elsewhere, Annesley stressed that teams are within their rights to use a free interchange for a victim of foul play as Melbourne did with five-eighth Cameron Munster against the Roosters last week.
The Storm admitted to using the rule tactically with Munster being replaced by prop Nelson Asofa-Soloma after a high tackle from Victor Radley and then returning to the action inside a minute to give Christian Welch a spell.
Cowboys fullback Valentine Holmes also briefly came to the sideline after a high shot from Bulldogs forward Jack Hetherington - for which he was sent off - before quickly returning to play.
A head knock isn't a requirement for a free interchange in this situation.
"There were some people suggesting the NRL's new rule that we recently introduced in relation to the 18th man interchange needed revision because it wasn't working the way it was intended to work," Annesley said.
"But the rule that allowed Munster and Valentine Holmes to come off and have a free interchange and go back on is a rule that's been in place for many, many years in our operations manual.
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"It's specifically designed that if a player appears injured as a result of foul play from an opposition player, and that player is either placed on report, sin-binned or sent off, they get the benefit of being able to interchange that player as a free interchange.
"If he's fit enough to return to the field, then he also gets to make that return as a free interchange."
As well as ensuring teams aren't disadvantaged if their player is injured as a result of foul play, the rule works as a disincentive for dangerous conduct.
An 18th man is only permitted as a replacement if a player is ruled out of a match after foul play that resulted in the offender being sin-binned or sent off.