A SIDELINE brawl involving almost every player on the field — and several from the interchange — threatens to derail the NRL title charges of Melbourne Storm and Manly Sea Eagles.
Manly's Glenn Stewart and Melbourne's Adam Blair were sent off for their part in the ugly first-half fight and face being charged with contrary conduct after scuffling as they were leaving the field of play, having both been sin-binned for an earlier incident.
After Blair and Stewart clashed, players from both sides became involved in the melee. Blair was swamped by five Manly players, including Stewart's brother Brett, while Storm interchange player Sisa Waqa, who was still wearing his Melbourne tracksuit top, became involved. He is likely to face some heavy scrutiny.
All in on the brawl: Sea Eagles and Storm players clash last night at Brookvale Oval. Manly won the main game 18-4. Photo: Steve Christo
On-field official Shayne Hayne placed the entire 25th-minute incident on report; the fight could result in numerous charges and Waqa, certainly, would face a heavy suspension if he is found to have escalated a fight from the interchange bench.
The match, which was won 18-4 by Manly, which remains in the hunt to take the minor premiership off the Storm, exploded after Manly forward Darcy Lussick and Melbourne's Ryan Hinchcliffe were involved in an exchange close to the Storm's try line. Hinchcliffe appeared to strike Lussick with his elbow as he tackled the Manly player. Lussick slapped Hinchcliffe and players from both sides joined the scuffle.
Stewart and Blair were sent to the bin, having run from a distance to throw punches. As Stewart walked off the field on the western touchline, Blair ran to catch up with him. The pair exchanged words and then began throwing punches, evoking memories of the sideline fight between Australia's Greg Dowling and New Zealand's Kevin Tamati in a 1985 Test match at Lang Park. Brett Stewart was first to the pair, while he was quickly joined by Lussick, Kieran Foran and Michael Robertson.
An NRL match has not been marred by a fight of this magnitude for more than a decade. In 2000, a brawl between North Queensland and the Warriors spilled onto the sidelines and into the Cowboys cheerleaders.
After last night's fight was broken up, Stewart and Blair quickly left the field but were called back by Hayne. "We want them both back on," Hayne called to the captains. He swiftly sent Stewart off. "You're gone," he said. He then said to Blair: "You've retaliated — away you go, too."
Both players may be referred straight to the NRL judiciary when the match review committee meets on Monday.
This was meant to be a grand final dress rehearsal — which would be a repeat of the 2007 and 2008 deciders — but this match may seriously dent the charge of both sides.
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