Intentional or not, this was one of the most sickening blows seen on an Australian sporting field in years.
The NRL Judiciary on Tuesday night suspended Canberra Raiders forward Iosia Soliola for five weeks after making "dangerous contact to the head/neck" that left star Melbourne Storm Billy Slater unconscious, and which ended his match.
Slater will also miss the coming weekend's Storm match as he recovers. But it's more than the two weeks of football that's his main loss; It's the two weeks of memory.
A medical report put forward by the Storm at the hearing showed that Slater had no recollection of anything that had happened over the previous two weeks. That includes the match itself, and the Queensland State of Origin series victory in Brisbane 10 days earlier. All of it is now erased.
The downstream effects of this on Slater's brain health cannot yet be known. But in an age of increasing instances of legal action over brain injuries (in rugby league and other heavy contact sports), plenty of people are arguing for stronger deterrents to stop these type of hits.
One such deterrent is the instant send-off -- a punishment which has not been invoked in the NRL for two years. It appears that referees are reluctant to take this measure, but seasoned rugby league watchers struggled to understand why Soliola remained onfield after his rogue tackle.
Soliola's defence team argued that the tackle was "careless" rather than "reckless". This argument was supported by the fact Slater fell just before he was hit. Yet the tackle's force was so severe that doctors said Slater was unconscious before he hit the ground, and remained unconscious for up to three minutes.
"The tackle was very late. Mr Soliola launched his body into the tackle. There was a swinging action of the arm. There was direct contact to the head or neck of Mr Slater," NRL counsel, Anthony Lo Surdo SC said.
Soliola was suitably apologetic. "I didn't mean to collect him high. I didn't think it was late at the time. But looking back and seeing the replays, I realised it was late. I put my hand up. It was late," he said.
Ironically, Soliola will return from his five-week suspension in round 26 when the Raiders again play the Storm, this time in Melbourne. His reception from parochial Storm fans should be all the reminder he needs to keep his hard-hitting to the leg and torso regions.
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