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Koroisau, Watene-Zelezniak found guilty, suspended

An impassioned judiciary defence by coach Ivan Cleary couldn't save Panthers hooker Api Koroisau from a one-match ban, while Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has been the third Warrior suspended for separate incidents involving Sharks firebrand Will Chambers.

In rare circumstances, Penrith opted to have Cleary represent Koroisau on Tuesday night instead of a leading barrister.

While Titans head of performance and culture Mal Meninga unsuccessfully defended David Fifita earlier this season, Cleary became the first coach to act as a lawyer for some time.

Cleary started out by stressing that he meant "no disrespect to the [legal] fraternity" and was assured by judiciary chairman Geoff Bellew that he was entitled to represent his player.

But while the coach spoke eloquently via video link, it wasn't enough for the panel of Ben Creagh, Bob Lindner and Dallas Johnson to acquit Koroisau.

He will now miss Friday night's clash with the Dragons at Suncorp Stadium.

Cleary said he couldn't find a definition for "true spirit of the game", "melee" or "unnecessary contact" in the judiciary code, in his view making the case "subjective".

"We think it's very much a rugby league argument," he said.

"Api, playing hooker, has to make many decisions in many games that he's played. These decisions are based around instincts and this decision was certainly that.

"Tago reacts in a fearful manner [to Waerea-Hargreaves] and so [Koroisau] made a decision, instinctively, based on a few things.

"Tago is a five-game 19-year-old, Hagreaves is a 200-game 32-year-old who is twice his size."

In Cleary's mind, it would have been a bigger breach of the spirit of the game had Koroisau not stuck up for Tago against an "intimidating and experienced foe".

Koroisau gave evidence at the outset, saying he saw Tago cop what looked like a forearm to the face from Waerea-Hargreaves.

"And then [he was] collared on the ground in a very vulnerable position," he said.

"I only did it [push Waerea-Hargreaves] to tell him to stop trying to bully 19-year-old kids on the field," he said.

"I didn't think there was any malice in the push. I didn't try to take his head off or collar him back. I just wanted to get him off.

"I just wanted to let him know that what he was doing – trying to pick on a 19-year-old – wasn't on."

NRL prosecutor Peter McGrath argued that, regardless of Koroisau's "good intentions", his behaviour meant a scuffle was "inevitable".

"What [Koroisau] did was going to aggravate – and did aggravate – the situation as sure as night follows day," McGrath said.

Two non-similar offences added 40 percent loading to Koroisau's charge, meaning he couldn't have got away with a fine by pleading guilty.

Meanwhile Watene-Zelezniak copped a one-game ban – and 40 carryover points – for grade-one contrary conduct having kneed Chambers in the head while fighting to play the ball on Saturday.

Chambers had been riling up the Warriors with incessant sledging and niggling, but Watene-Zelezniak insisted he did not intend to hurt the veteran centre in the 42nd minute of an 18-16 win.

However, the panel of Ben Creagh, Dallas Johnson and Bob Lindner deemed that Chambers had been careless and rubbed him out of Sunday's clash with the Bulldogs at Redcliffe's Moreton Daily Stadium.

Asked by his lawyer James McLeod if he intentionally contacted Chambers' head, Watene-Zelezniak firmly answered: "No, no way."

He claimed that having been "pinned down" by Chambers and Ronaldo Mulitalo, "I decided to go to the left and got up and played the ball … Going left was my only option.

"I don't think I was careless at all. At first, I tried to get over [Chambers'] torso to clear him," he added.

NRL prosecutor Peter McGrath centred his case on the fact that Watene-Zelezniak drove his left knee towards the ground while his foot remained in the air.

There was no suggestion of Watene-Zelezniak having any intent to injure Chambers.

"That contact with the head of the tackling player was, I submit, careless and doesn't really reflect with what the player himself tells you in attempting to go left and play the ball quickly," McGrath said.

But McLeod countered that using a knee "can be a completely legitimate way to get up to play the ball".

Furthermore, he argued that Chambers put himself in an "uncommon and problematic" position" by rolling "towards the meat of the play-the-ball".

The former Kiwi captain's record of two non-similar offences in the past two years had added 40 percent loading to his charge, meaning he couldn't get away with a fine by pleading guilty.

Warriors prop Kane Evans, who punched Chambers after being incensed by his verbal baiting, has already accepted a one-match ban.

And fellow front-rower Matt Lodge will serve two weeks (due to loading) for a careless high tackle on the Cronulla antagonist.

The Warriors are shooting for three consecutive victories as they strive to keep their faint finals hopes alive.

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