IRRESPECTIVE of whether or not Knights fullback Brendan Elliot should have left the field on Saturday for a concussion assessment, it defies belief that the player responsible for his injury, South Sydney centre Hymel Hunt, was allowed to play out the game.
Hunt hit Elliot with a cocked, swinging arm across the face. It was about as blatant a head shot as you could expect to see.
Elliot’s teammates immediately protested to referee Dave Munro, while in the press box, after viewing a replay of the incident, I commented to fellow journalists: “That’s a send-off. He’ll be suspended for that, for sure, so he should be sent off.’’
Instead Munro, after stopping play to liaise with the video referees, placed Hunt on report and allowed him to continue.
Predictably, the 23-year-old was charged on Sunday by the match-review panel, and the severity of his sanction proves this was no minor offence.
Hunt was charged with a grade-two reckless high tackle, which left him facing a suspension of four games if he accepted it, or six games if he challenged it unsuccessfully at the judiciary.
On Monday, Souths opted for the early guilty plea – accepting the longest suspension handed to any NRL player this season.
To put this in context, Knights fans might remember the 2007 season-opener against Canterbury, when Sonny Bill Williams hit Andrew Johns with a swinging arm that knocked him out cold.
Johns was carried from the field on a stretcher, and with 18,791 spectators united in expressing their disapproval, referee Tony Archer sent Williams to the sheds.
That SBW was subsequently suspended for two games is an indication of how lucky Hunt was not to receive his marching orders on Saturday.
The only notable difference between the two incidents was that Elliot, unlike Johns, eventually regained his feet and was able to resume playing.
Whether that should have happened, without at least a head-injury assessment, is a moot point.
Would the match officials have shown such leniency on Saturday had Elliot, like Johns 10 years earlier, been incapacitated and stretchered off? It shouldn’t matter.
With the benefit of video referees and countless TV angles, there was no doubt that Hunt’s tackle was foul play and highly dangerous.
Had he been sent off, Newcastle would have played against a 12-man opposition for 52 minutes. There are also plenty who would agree Souths prop George Burgess – who copped two games for throwing an elbow and punches at Mitch Barnett – was lucky to escape with a sin-binning.
Now Burgess, Hunt and teammate Braidon Burns (shoulder charge) have been suspended, yet the teams who will benefit are Souths’ next opponents, not Newcastle.
The Knights, meanwhile, are facing a $100,000 fine for not taking Elliot from the field for an assessment. It’s been a costly episode for them, in more ways than one.