Newcastle forward Mitch Barnett has vowed to change his ways after receiving a six-match suspension for an off-the-ball incident that resulted in him being sent off and has ruled Penrith second-rower Chris Smith out of Friday night’s grand final re-match against South Sydney.
Barnett was sent off in the 32nd minute of last Saturday’s match in Bathurst after striking Smith in the jaw with a raised forearm and while the judiciary panel accepted that he did not intend to injure the Panthers forward they rejected his claim that he did not see him until the last second.
As a result, panel members Bob Lindner and Tony Puletua agreed on a six match ban for reckless dangerous contact, which sat in between the four matches sought by Barnett’s legal representative Nick Ghabar and the minimum eight match suspension NRL counsel Lachlan Gyles asked for.
A character reference from former ARL chief executive John Quayle, who was involved with the Knights when the NRL took over the club after Nathan Tinkler was forced to relinquish ownership, also weighed in Barnett’s favour.
The Knights second-rower had pleaded guilty to a careless offence but Gyles argued that his actions had been intentional or, at best, highly reckless.
He said afterwards that he had been in contact with Smith, who failed a HIA after the incident and will miss the clash with Souths at BlueBet Stadium on Friday night.
“I got a fair trial and one thing I take out it is that I hope Chris is alright,” Barnett said. “I have sent him a text message and we have exchanged text messages.
“The lesson I learned is just that I obviously can’t be careless with my actions in terms of player safety. I have to be better there, and I learned a lesson. It is disappointing, but I will go away and do my time and do what is best for the team going forward.”
The incident was Barnett’s sixth offence since 2015, including a grade three dangerous contact charge for a crusher tackle in 2019 under the previous judiciary code, which has been modified for this season.
Asked whether he needed to make any changes to his game, Barnett said: “Off the top of my head, I obviously do with my record. I will go away and look at that now and make the necessary adjustments”.
During the two-hour hearing, Barnett had told the panel that he was running back towards Newcastle’s tryline to attempt to prevent a three-on-two overlap by the Panthers and had not seen Smith until a split second before contact.
Barnett said he raised his forearm as a “bumper” to brace himself as he did not want to be knocked over, because the Knights were instructed not to leave it up to the referee to decide if there had been obstruction and make the tackle.
However, he insisted the first point of contact was with Smith’s chest and said that he may have “scraped his face” but the contact was not forceful.
Gyles countered by saying that the first point of contact was Barnett’s forearm striking Smith’s jaw, and his elbow had then hit him in the chest.
He also said that Smith did not have the ball and had stopped, describing him as “prone and defenceless”.
"The incident was so late that the television cameras almost didn't pick it up,” Gyles said.
Gyles said the incident had been intentional but after deliberating for 30 minutes Lindner and Puletua - the two former players on the new judiciary panel model - disagreed and they did need chairman Geoff Bellew to help them decide.
Bellew outlined the reasons for the verdict and six-match ban.
“The panel was satisfied that the player was fully aware of Smith’s presence and was also fully aware of the angle from which and the speed at which he was coming towards him,” Bellew said.
“The panel were also satisfied that the first point of contact was with player Smith’s chin and for those reasons the panel were satisfied that the actions of the player were reckless and not simply careless.
“In terms of other factors, the panel considered the force was high as was the potential for injury and took into account that player Smith was not able to complete the match.
“The panel was also conscious of the need for any penalty to act as a general and specific deterrent.
“However, in the player’s favour, the panel took into account his plea of guilty, the remorse that that plea carries and the panel also placed weight on the testimony of John Quayle.”