“Punishments outweigh the crime” – the disciplinary dilemma

Luke Gale sent off which has triggered debate over rugby league disciplinary
Photo: James Heaton/News Images

For the second successive week, it’s the disciplinary that’s dominating the headlines in Super League.

It was inevitable the big flash points of Hull’s defeat to St Helens would rumble on, though perhaps no one could have anticipated just how much controversy it would cause.

The Hull skipper received a five-match ban – for a combination of his reckless studs up challenge on Jonny Lomax, and his subsequent attempts to drag the potentially injured Saints half-back up from the floor.

Huddersfield hooker Danny Levi has also copped a two-match ban for trying to drag Hull KR’s Mikey Lewis up off the floor.

A total of 22 separate incidents have resulted in charges across the two rounds of Super League so far.

That has led to bans totalling 33 matches for those players involved, with Gale’s five-match ban the worst so far.

It has led to much criticism of the disciplinary process as a result.

The disciplinary process

The RFL website details the process of the match review panel.

The Match Review Panel is made up of former Warrington player and coach Paul Cullen, ex-Great Britain back-rower Paul Dixon, Challenge Cup winner Nathan McAvoy and Australian Phil Veivers.

There have been calls for video explanations to be provided for each incident; particularly after the tackle centre to the Levi charge was ‘leaked’ online.

Pre-COVID, a regular show called “The Sin Bin” presented by Rod Studd saw Cullen give explanations for various disciplinary outcomes.

The RFL are hoping to bring this back in March.

The detail of each case is published, confirming the charge and sanction.

For example, the incident that saw Hull centre Connor Wynne sinbinned was filed with no charge.

Photo: James Heaton/News Images

The detail was given as: “Player is not lifted into a dangerous position. Player holds a leg in a stationery (sic) tackle. Opponent contributes and rolls himself to the floor.”

That has led to some questioning why the opponent, in this case St Helens’ Jack Welsby, wasn’t cited for his involvement in the incident.

Rugby league disciplinary in context

A major cloud hanging over the RFL at present is the threat of legal action from former players in relation to concussion.

Ultimately, that means the governing body has to demonstrate a water-tight approach to player welfare and safety.

Otherwise there’s an uncertain future ahead for the whole sport that doesn’t bear thinking about.

Writing in his Hull Daily Mail column, former Hull FC favourite Paul Cooke said: “For me, it’s not as big of a deal as it’s been made out to be.

“It’s a yellow at worse, but the referees follow the directive from above and if they’re being told that’s a serious offence, they’ll follow to those guidelines.

“Also, you can’t pick a player up from the floor. I don’t believe Luke or any player is a medical professional and when a player is injured we see the physios not move a player until they know the manner of the injury and the severity of it, so he was going to get banned for it.

“But at the minute, the punishments outweigh the crime. Danny Levi has got a two-match ban for his on Mikey Lewis.

“It’s not worthy of two matches just like a lot of other incidents of varying nature haven’t been, but that’s where the game is at currently.

“The argument is that by suspending players, they’ll not do it (in future) because of excess suspensions.

“It depends which way you look at it. You can take the case of Mose Masoe, an innocuous challenge. But what would have happened if a Wakefield player touched him? It depends on which way you want to look at it.”

Match, charges, tribunal, appeals; repeat

There is a major divide in opinion over the incidents and the punishments.

It is now becoming the major talking point of the game week in, week out.

Match Review Panel charges are announced on a Monday.

Tribunals and hearings then follow on a Tuesday, with appeals heard on a Wednesday.

That means one incident can be dragged out for three days – and that’s not including the discussion surrounding it immediately after the game itself.

Finding the right balance remains a significant challenge for rugby league.

Charges and suspensions are meant to act as a deterrent to players to stop doing things deemed illegal by the laws of the game.

But rugby league, for clubs and as a sport, can ill-afford to have any of its players sat on the sidelines for prolonged periods.

That can’t be used as an excuse for allowing players to get away with foul play, though.

Perhaps more detailed explanations, using video, could be provided by the RFL for particular incidents.

Though even if they did that, it doesn’t mean fans will like the answers.

MORE: Editor’s column: Toulouse must act fast and ref bashing must stop

About James Gordon 7291 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. All the judicial panel were good professionals but the game has moved on in the short time since they played.The game has got faster,not the play the ball,so their job is not easy and I don’t doubt that all their decisions are well meant.The panel and the match officials have one major problem in the fact that they are not consistent.Us disillusioned fans are pulling our hair out because we can see the game we all love going downhill so please just be consistent.One example is Brad Dwyer on week one getting suspended for doing the self same thing that Konrad Hurrell did in week two and not even a penalty was give.By the wa neither player are dirty players.

  2. Completely ruining the game, historically Rugby league is a rough tough sport played by tough men. Now it might as well be chess. What ever next? Tag rugby replacing contact?

    • You have to get a balance between maintaining the game and the duty of care that the sport and players have to each other. No one wants to see long term problems relating to head injuries, so the sport has to do its best to help prevent that and that takes time and practice. Sport is not an exact science and there will be ‘injustice’, but as long as the referees are acting in the best interests of the players then we have all got to back them on the basis that they are there at the scene. I am involved in the disciplinary process in a non sport area and I can assure everyone that we spend a considerable amount of time to arrive at a fair and correct decision, I have no reason to beleive that the RL process is any different or lacks any form of integrity. Come on fans, remember the sport is bigger than the team is bigger than the player.

  3. The Disciplinary process has not been fit for purpose for some years, their appears to be a bias towards a certain three Lancashire Club’s. And the incident involving Gale and Lomax would have been dealt with differently if not a Hull player, and was still at Leeds. That’s how it appears to most supporters who watch the game.

    But the real concern is the continued play acting by certain players Lomax, Welsby for example who did everything you see in football to gain a penalty.

    It is time these cheats were penalised accordingly.

    But in the end the current process needs to appear more just, fair and transparent, including the Appeals process. Grading alleged misconduct appears that it is already decided in advance of being able to give any evidence etc.

    Also need to clarify what is deliberate, intentional, reckless, accidental etc.

    Key issue though is that each charge the club and ayer as a right to give evidence and defend in advance of a ruling decision being made. And Appeals must be independant of previous panel, and be heard based on new evidence, challanging the process, length of suspension etc, and not what appears that nothing changes and the club and player are penalised.

    Also clubs not just players should be fined for frivolous claims.

  4. At a seemingly positive moment in RL history all that pent up, stored up negativity had to find an outlet and it might as well be the trivial issue of the disciplinary decisions and process.

  5. The game is heading towards the “namby pamby roll around on the floor in agony” farce that now dominates girlyball (football).

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