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Valentine Holmes slapped with huge ban after bizarre judiciary antics

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North Queensland’s hopes of playing finals football have taken a massive hit with star centre Valentine Holmes rubbed out for the rest of the regular season after he was banned for four matches at a bizarre judiciary hearing on Tuesday night.

Holmes would have missed three games if he pleaded guilty to a grade two careless high tackle challenge on Gold Coast’s Jayden Campbell when he jammed in and shouldered him to the head, but tried to have the punishment downgraded to a fine.

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It was the second week in a row the Queensland star was sin binned and charged for a similar incident, although he avoided a ban for the first shot on Mitch Moses.

The panel of Paul Simpkins and Tony Puletua sat through a strange 60-minute hearing and were unanimous in their decision to uphold the grade two charge, with Holmes unavailable to play unless the Cowboys finish in the top eight.

Players have regularly disputed the grading of charges, but this case didn’t follow script with judiciary chairman Justice Geoffrey Bellew scolding defence counsel Bill O’Toole several times for not following the proper judicial process.

O’Toole unsuccessfully tried to have a piece of evidence withdrawn, arguing that Holmes hadn’t seen a memo that NRL head of football Graham Annesley sent to the clubs last week until Tuesday afternoon.

He also got referred charges and downgrades mixed up and then tried to enter evidence when his case was closed, although judiciary counsel Lachlan Gyles SC allowed it.

O’Toole’s main argument was that Campbell wasn’t injured, he didn’t need to come off for a head injury assessment and continued to play, while he also suggested the Titans fullback had lowered his head at the point of contact.

He also used a comparable tackle by Parramatta’s Maika Sivo in Round 20, but that was dismissed by the panel who deemed both tackles to have exhibited similar force.

Gyles pointed to the fact that Holmes jumped off the ground to make the tackle and that prevented him from lowering the point of contact with a high level of force.

Holmes will now miss Saturday’s crucial Queensland derby against the Broncos and won’t be free to play until the first week of the finals given the Cowboys still have a bye.

Meanwhile, Dragons veteran Jack de Belin says he’s “bitterly disappointed” after he was suspended for four matches after he failed in his bid to have a dangerous contact charge downgraded at the NRL judiciary.

De Belin was looking at a three week ban if he’d taken the early guilty plea, but the lock forward rolled the dice and tried to have it reduced from a grade two to a grade one offence which would have resulted in a fine.

The hearing lasted 45 minutes before Simpkins and Puletua took about 20 minutes to uphold the charge, with de Belin unable to return until Round 27.

“I’m bitterly disappointed,” he said.

“I think we showed that it probably should have been a grade one, but I respect the judiciary’s decision. That’s life and you’ve got to play the cards you’ve been dealt.

“If you watch it, I don’t actively or consciously do a hip drop. It’s kind of one motion and unfortunately I ended up around his boot.

“There were mitigating factors, but as football players I know we have a responsibility and a duty of care.

“I don’t necessarily agree that there was a high level of force.”

Play was initially allowed to continue but a stoppage allowed the Bunker to relay a message to referee Chris Butler that de Belin had committed an act of foul play and had to be sent to the sin bin.

Tuipulotu suffered a grade two MCL injury and is expected to miss 2-3 weeks, although defence counsel Nick Ghabar argued that heavy strapping on his right knee suggested the left leg had to work harder and could have contributed to the injury.

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Ghabar’s main argument was that the tackle was one fluid motion and that his client hadn’t re-gripped before dropping his weight on Tuipulotu’s left leg.

He also argued that Dragons prop Francis Molo played a key role in the tackle and that his actions were a major mitigating factor that led to de Belin landing on the Sea Eagles winger.

Replays showed that the Dragons duo’s feet collided which forced de Belin’s right foot to come off the ground as he lost balance, with Ghabar arguing that a “momentary exertion of low-level force” warranted a grade one charge.

“Grading should not be based on outcome. It should be based on the objective severity of the conduct,” he said.

“If this was conduct so bad that it deserves a grade two then surely it would have been picked up at the time.

“The fact that it took minutes for the Bunker to (look at it) suggests that the objective severity of the breach was at the lower end.”

Gyles argued that de Belin had put Tuipulotu in a “position of physical vulnerability” and that “players have a special duty to avoid forceful contact”.

The panel agreed, ruling the force was moderate and that the risk of injury was significant.

Originally published as Holmes slapped with huge ban after bizarre defence; de Belin also loses at NRL Judiciary

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