Player banned for life after attacking referee

19th January 2019 , Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens, England; Betfred Super League Warm Up and Jonny Lomax Testimonial , St Helens v Hull FC ; Head of referees Steve Ganson speaks to press about the rule changes following the game Credit: Richard Long/News Images

The RFL has backed a decision to impose a sine die suspension on a community rugby league player following a physical assault on a match referee in a recent game.

Milford player Josh Nathaniel struck referee Joe Stearne after being dismissed from a recent fixture against Oulton Raiders, which was subsequently abandoned.

A National Conference League disciplinary has handed down its maximum punishment, a life ban, which the player can appeal and ask for a review of the ban after five years.

NCL chair Trevor Hunt said: “We will never accept or tolerate such actions and we know these feelings are shared by all at the Milford club, who have been outstanding members of the NCL over many years.

“We also know and accept that the player involved is deeply upset following the incident and we are determined to work with Milford to support him through these difficult times.

“We are grateful to the RFL for the support that they, through their experienced officers and RL Cares will now provide not only to the referee but to Josh, as we seek to eradicate such instances from our competition.”

REPORT: Match abandoned after player attacks referee

According to reports from the game, Nathaniel was first yellow carded by the official before being sent off for dissent prior to the assault taking place.

In its own statement, the RFL said that the decision taken by the disciplinary hearing – held by the NCL as per the operational rules at community level – was the correct one.

Steve Ganson, the RFL’s Head of Match Officials, said: “Respect for match officials is imperative for all in our sport, at all levels.

“Physical abuse of match officials is the unacceptable extreme of disrespect, and it is important that on the very rare occasions such as this when it does occur, any punishment must reflect that.

“If incidents such as this were not met with the most severe punishment, it would send all the wrong messages as we aim to increase our recruitment and retention of match officials, which is so important for all levels of Rugby League.

“Abuse of match officials is a significant concern in a majority of sporting environments and it is important that all in sport realise that this is unacceptable. It is a commonly used statement that without a match official there is no game. This abuse causes serious harm to recruitment and retention of officials.”

The RFL and Rugby League Cares have made support available to the referee following the incident, which was also investigated by police.

Also read

The next generation of referees: 12-year-old Archie takes charge of first game

Referee Liam Moore hopes more former players become match officials

The referee drain: does rugby league have a match officials crisis?

About James Gordon 7167 Articles
Love Rugby League editor. Founded the website back in 2005. Worked with a range of clubs and sponsors during that time. Also commentates for BBC.


  1. The referee should sue the player for everything he has. Take legal action against the bloody idiot. It’s becoming too prevalent because the young of today don’t take responsibility for their actions and think they are playing a in video game!!!

  2. Rugby does not have objective standards of performance management for referees.
    Cricket uses artificial intelligence to assist with LBW & catching decisions etc. So too do many sports codes. The leadership of World Rugby needs to wake up and embrace AI to enhance the speed, accuracy and quality of decisions. All too often the referee becomes the 31st player on the field.

    • Geoff Heald, you need to compare ‘community’ rugby league with the same level of cricket, not the televised game you watch from the comfort of your armchair. Furthermore, you seem to be confused about the differences between the two codes of rugby.

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