Canberra player Jack Wighton.
Canberra player Jack Wighton. ANDREW TAYLOR

NRL defends decision to charge Wighton

RUGBY LEAGUE: The NRL has gone to extraordinary lengths to defend its decision to allow Cronulla hooker Michael Ennis to play in round one of the finals while at the same time hitting Canberra fullback Jack Wighton with a charge that effectively rules him out of the entire series.

Even if the Raiders win their next two games to make the grand final, Wighton will not be available.

Most commentators who watched the clash between Melbourne and Cronulla expected Ennis to be charged by the Match Review Committee.

Clearly aware of the outcry it would cause, the NRL issued a press statement with photos of Ennis's tackle to justify its call.

MRC co-ordinator Michael Buettner said there was a clear difference in the tackle performed by Ennis on the Storm's Blake Green and that of Wighton on Tiger Joel Edwards.

"We look for three key indicators when determining whether a shoulder charge has been made,” Buettner said.

"The upper arm of the defender must be tucked in to his side at contact; the defender is making no attempt to wrap in the tackle with both arms; (and) there is forceful contact by the defender to any part of the body of the attacking player.

"If all three of these indicators are clearly identified in an incident then a player will be charged with a shoulder charge.

"In the case of Michael Ennis, it's very clear that the left arm of Ennis is away from his body and not tucked into his side, so no charge was laid.

"In the Wighton incident, the MRC was satisfied that all three indicators were present and so a charge has been laid.”

Canberra coach Ricky Stuart and officials were fuming after Wighton was hit with the grade-two shoulder charge. With loading from prior offences it adds up to 400 points, or four games.

Even if Wighton was to take an early guilty plea (360 points) he would have to rely on the Raiders losing this week to the Sharks and winning their next two, in order to contest the grand final.

It's a massive blow for Canberra, which has no choice but to go to Rugby League Central on Wednesday night and fight for a downgrade at the judiciary.

The Raiders, who have blasted rivals off their park with an avalanche of points in the past month, will have to make some major changes. Wellington-born winger Jordan Rapana, who has scored 20 tries this season, could shift to fullback but Stuart will be loathe to break up his deadly combination with centre Joseph Leilua.

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