Newcastle Knights forward Mitch Barnett has been referred directly to the NRL Judiciary for drilling his elbow into Chris Smith’s jaw during the Knights’ round three loss to the Penrith Panthers.
For the first time under the league’s current judiciary structure, the Match Review Committee opted not to ban the player for a fixed number of matches. Instead, Barnett must speak before the NRL Judiciary, which will then decide his fate.
The hit occurred away from the play towards the end of the first half and left Smith writhing in agony on the ground.
Barnett became the first Knights player since 2013 to be sent off and on Sunday, he was charged with Dangerous Contact by the Match Review Committee.
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The hit also attracted the ire of rugby league experts.
“That is nasty,” said Fox League caller Warren Smith.
“What an absolute brain explosion by Mitch Barnett. As cheap as it gets.”
“This is ugly, this is stupid,” Fox League expert Cooper Cronk said of the hit at halftime.
“It’s a moment of madness,” added Benji Marshall.
“Seriously, it’s unnecessary. To get past the player, you can just move him out of the way. There’s no need to lift the elbow.”
Smith had been playing his first game for the Panthers since returning from stints with the Roosters and Bulldogs.
He failed his HIA, played no further part in the match and will go in for scans to determine the extent of the injury.
At the time of Barnett’s hit, the Knights had been making the most of the Bathurst breeze to lead the understrength Panthers 6-4.
But forced to play a man down for the remainder of the contest, the Novocastrians couldn’t contain the Panthers on the edges and ultimately lost 38-20.
The Knights conceded six tries while they were a man down, two of which came down Barnett’s edge.
After the game Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien opted not to give his thoughts on the hit, nor on the extent to which it affected the end score.
“I tell you what Mitch doesn’t need is me coming out and kicking him publicly,” said O’Brien.
“He’s part of our family and we’ll deal with it behind closed doors. There’s no one feeling any worse than Mitch.
“We’ll just deal with it during the week.”
With their win, the Panthers snapped the Knights’ two-game hot streak and kept their own start to the season intact.
After the game, coach Ivan Cleary said co-captain and son Nathan was on track to face the South Sydney Rabbitohs next weekend.
The younger Cleary underwent shoulder surgery in the off-season and has spent the first three weeks of the premiership recovering.