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.”
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.