RUGBY league player Matthew Nean has been handed a 20-year ban from the game for shoulder-charging the referee at the Group 4 grand final on September 11 – after being offered a suspension of just 18 weeks for an early guilty plea.
The West Tamworth Lions first-grade halfback said Thursday’s judiciary sentence was “outrageous”.
Mr Nean has already lodged an appeal and engaged a barrister, and hopes a review of his suspension will go his way.
He said the incident was another blow in a troubled couple of years for him, which included jail time and the death of his brother in a car accident.
The grand final at Jack Woolaston Oval between the Lions and North Tamworth Bears was called off early and police brought in after several players were sent off and crowd members spilled onto the pitch.
Five Lions players - Mr Nean, Chris Hunt, Sam Taylor, Phil Beaton and Matt Lillicrap - faced a judiciary panel at Wests’ Diggers.
Mr Hunt was cleared of bringing the game into disrepute and swearing at a referee; Mr Taylor was cleared of disputing the referee’s decisions. Mr Beaton and Mr Lillicrap received a five-week suspended sentence and a six-week suspension respectively for their charges.
A second hearing will be held next Thursday, and it’s anticipated the panel will come down hard on another Lions player, Sean Nean, if he’s found guilty of his charge of headbutting a referee.
Group 4 Rugby League vice-president Ray McCoy said the organisation was “reviewing a number of incidents” from the match.
“All players found guilty and receiving suspensions last night now have the right to appeal their sentences, as part of the Group 4 and Country Rugby League process and procedures. At this, stage Group 4 Rugby League will not be making any further comments until all matters have been addressed and completely resolved.”
Coach Shane Rampling said he found the decision “bizarre” after what he said amounted to an accidental mutual bump between Mr Nean and referee James Brown.
“How did they get from 18 weeks to 20 years?”, he said. “In saying all that, we don’t condone any violence towards referees or match officials. If it was proven without shadow of a doubt, yep, they should get a decent suspension, but 20 years for an incident where he shouldn't have been sent off in the first place?”
Mr Nean, 25, said he was trying to stay positive but, apart from his fulltime job and family, footy was his life. “I always said to my son [Kobhan, who’s in West Lions under-7s] I’d retire after he plays first grade with me - if he’s not down with a Sydney club. He’s very talented.”