Storm star Brandon Smith has been slapped with a three-game suspension for abusing NRL referee Adam Gee.
Smith was referred directly to the judiciary after he was convicted for calling Gee a “cheating bastard” during a surprise loss to the Sharks last Thursday.
Melbourne had the ball when Smith delivered his sled, assuming Cronulla should have been allowed to dominate the ruck by slowing the play-the-ball.
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NRL attorney Lachlan Gyles opened the court proceedings on Tuesday night by claiming that Smith also called Gee a “f***ing cheating asshole.”
Smith, who pleaded guilty to the charge of contrarian conduct, accepted that he called Gee an impostor but denied the second sled.
“I said ‘f*** me,’ but to myself, not to the umpire,” Smith said.
“I was very frustrated and then called the referee a cheater. It was a brain explosion.
“I was frustrated because my performance was bad and my team’s performance was bad. We were behind 20 and in the heat of the moment I was responding to the wrong person.”
Smith was immediately marched and had a verbal altercation with a Sharks fan as he walked through the tunnel.
The 26-year-old was apologetic and emotional when he stood before the judiciary via video link on Tuesday evening.
“I went to the sheds and immediately told Frank (Ponissi) that I screwed up. I told him what I said and he was very disappointed,” Smith said.
“After the game I asked Frank if I could see the referee to apologize and I did. I went and said sorry and told him it was out of character.
“I am ashamed. I will accept any consequence given to me tonight.”
Gyles said the NRL accepted that Gee may have misheard the “f***ing prick” part, but claimed it was a lot of a multitude because he still called the referee a cheat.
“The reason we’re here is because he questioned the integrity of the referee by calling him an impostor,” Gyles said.
“It cannot be considered appropriate for any reason to question the character, honesty or integrity of an umpire.
“A foul of this nature has a potentially detrimental effect on young players trying to emulate the players of the NRL competition… and a negative effect on those aspiring to become match officials.
“We are asking for a ban of at least four weeks.”
Gyles argued that Smith is one of the most popular players in the game and therefore had an extra responsibility to be a role model.
That was an argument Smith’s attorney Nick Ghabar flatly rejected, saying that all players should be held to the same standard.
Ghabar said a two-week suspension would “be more than a sufficient deterrent” and that further sanctions would not take into account his regrets.
New Zealand coach Michael Maguire wrote a character reference for Smith and part of it was read by Ghabar.
Brandon is a larrikin, but has always had respect for authority, including referees. This didn’t fit the character,” Maguire wrote.
The two-member judicial panel consisted of former player Tony Puletua and former umpire Paul Simpkins.
Justice Attorney Geoff Bellew said, “The panel was impressed with Smith’s honesty and contrition.”
Smith will miss games against the Raiders, Rabbitohs and Warriors.
Relive updates from the hearing in the blog below.
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