Kiwis hooker Brandon Smith will be available for the Storm in the NRL opening round clash with Wests Tigers after he and Warriors fullback Reece Walsh had their suspensions reduced by one match each.
Smith and Melbourne team-mates Cameron Munster and Chris Lewis were each banned for one match over an off-field incident after the Storm’s exit from the 2021 finals series, while Walsh was suspended for two matches after being arrested and pleading guilty to cocaine possession.
Both Smith and Walsh missed the February 12 All Stars fixture at CommBank Stadium as it was believed they were ineligible but the Storm and Warriors applied for the game to count after NRL Judiciary chairman Geoff Bellew ruled that the match be included in Latrell Mitchell’s suspension.
Mitchell has been a key member of the Indigenous All Stars team in recent seasons and Bellew accepted the submission by South Sydney officials that the game be classified as a representative match and should therefore count toward the star fullback’s five-match ban.
With the Storm and Warriors arguing that Smith and Walsh also would have been selected in the All Stars match if they had been available, NRL CEO Andrew Abdo used his discretionary powers to align suspensions imposed by the integrity unit with Bellew’s ruling.
However, Canberra’s Jordan Rapana did not receive a reduction as he played for the Maori All Stars team.
The Storm welcomed the NRL’s ruling that will allow Smith to be eligible to play in round one of the 2022 season.
“Our club and players value the All Stars game as an important part of the rugby league calendar,” a club statement said.
“The club thanks the NRL for considering our submission, as well as the submission by the NZ Warrior, who were in a similar position.
Smith said he had been disappointed that he was unable to play in the All Stars match, won 16-10 by the Maori team before a crowd of more than 27,000.
“It was certainly very tough to miss out on playing with my Maori brothers and not getting the chance to enjoy the All Stars week,” Smith said.
“I continue to take the steps I need to put last year’s events behind me, to improve myself and I’m grateful to have the chance to be part of round one of the competition next week.”
Meanwhile, Cronulla prop Braden Hamlin-Uele has been charged with grade one dangerous contact for a late tackle on Canterbury halfback Jake Averillo in Monday night's 30-6 win but will avoid suspension as the offence carries a fine.