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Widders, Fulton cleared to play

22/08/2007 10:18:50 PM Comments (0)

South Sydney's Dean Widders and Wests Tigers Liam Fulton are free to face each other on Sunday to continue their clubs' finals charge.

But St George Illawarra prop Jason Ryles had his season ended at the NRL Judiciary as the Dragons' tackling techniques were called into question.

Widders was found not guilty of the new crusher style tackle, made illegal by the NRL just last week, while Fulton cleared himself of the dreaded grapple tackle charge.

But Ryles was found guilty of a grapple tackle and banned for two games in an extraordinary judiciary hearing that forced chairman Greg Woods to question Dragons defensive coach Max Ninness about the techniques taught to players.

The Dragons tried to argue Ryles had produced a "lock on" tackle on North Queensland's Aaron Payne and that the Cowboy's own actions resulted in the force against his neck.

But during cross examination Woods interrupted and abruptly asked Ninness "are you teaching players to hold onto the neck?"

He also questioned the Dragons use of a wrestling coach, from which the "hold" grip was derived, to which Ninness responded: "I would say every team has a wrestling coach," he told the panel.

"If we don't do it we are putting our players at risk.

"If they cannot react out of situations then they are going to get thrown around the park.

"If we were to dismiss it and say it does not exist we would be very naive and letting our players down."

The panel - made up of former players Royce Ayliffe, Don McKinnon and Bob Lindner - took just four minutes to return a guilty verdict which stunned the Dragons who admit they may have to reconsider their tackling strategy.

"I think it's fair to say the interpretation of these tackles has changed in recent times and we are here because of that," said club chief executive Peter Doust.

"Obviously we might have to reconsider where we are on the subject and we will do that in due course."

Widders' case was the most prolonged in a four-hour night at the judiciary, with the panel taking 20 minutes to return his not guilty verdict and save the Rabbitohs lock from a three-game ban.

He was the first player charged under the NRL's new laws outlawing a tackle which applies unnecessary pressure to the head, neck or spinal column of an opponent for his tackle of Manly's Jamie Lyon last Monday.

The new tackle technique had drawn widespread media coverage last week and it prompted Woods to advise the panel against being part of "a campaign".

"This is just one case, it is not a campaign and you must not make a decision based on being part of a campaign," Woods told the panel.

"Nobody goes to jail by a decision of this panel. Although it can be distressing and painful for a club, it is nothing like as painful and dangerous as an injury to the neck or spine.

"The protection of players is of primary importance.

"All players at all times have a duty to avoid possible injury to the head, neck or spinal column of another player."

South Sydney's defence counsel Geoff Bellew successfully convinced the panel Widders was not reckless in his involvement in the tackle and teammate Michael Greenfield had considerable input which caused Lyon to finish in an awkward and unsatisfactory position.

The availability of Widders for the Leichhardt Oval clash with the Tigers is a huge boost for South Sydney as they are currently eighth and chasing their first finals appearance in 18 years.

"It's good news, I'm not guilty so it will let me focus on the game for the Tigers and we will get on with things and that's probably all I want to say," said Widders after the hearing.

Fulton was cleared of a grade one charge for an alleged grapple on Cronulla's Luke Douglas.

He could have escaped a ban by accepting an early plea, but instead stood up for his own innocence and risked a one-game ban by fighting the charge.

The Tigers used additional camera angles from Fox Sports, a statement from Douglas and medical evidence which stated it was physically impossible for Fulton to apply force to the head or neck from the position he held the Sharks player.

"He was charged on one angle and to be honest when the other angles were seen it was reasonably obvious he was not guilty," said Tigers coach Tim Sheens.

"If you're confident and you feel that you have a good case and are not guilty then you should stand up for it."

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