A spiteful clash between the Newcastle Knights and Cronulla Sharks went up a gear after Chad Townsend was sent off for a vicious hit on Kalyn Ponga.
Up 22-4 with 27 minutes to go, the Knights fullback marked the ball in the in-goal before running out to the 20m line to take a tap.
Already sporting wadding up the nose to stop a nose bleed, Ponga raced out and took the tap, only for Townsend, who was set on the 30m line, to fly out and annihilate the Knights star with a huge shoulder charge.
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Both teams came together for some push and shove, and thankfully Ponga was quick to leap up.
The Knights returned to form on the back of Ponga’s hat-trick in the 38-10 win but Townsend’s hit stole the attention.
“Colossal from Chad Townsend on Kalyn Ponga and the flare up ensues,” commentator Matt Russell said on Fox League.
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It was a monster hit with Townsend jumping into the tackle and getting off his feet.
The crowd of 5597 were baying for blood after the hit and referee Ben Cummins agreed, calling it high, pointing the Sharks halfback to the sideline for the third send-off of the season.
“You aren’t making a tackle, feet off the ground, you’re off,” he said. “I reckon it was pretty serious, he jumped off the ground, off the ball and he’s hit him high.”
Part of the explanation for the decision was that Cummins had called time off as he was about to send Ponga back to tap again.
Balmain legend and commentator Steve Roach asked: “Townsend was on the move, how could he pull out of it?”
Sharks coach John Morris wasn’t sure if he thought it should be a send off but admitted “it was a shoulder charge”.
“I feel for Chaddy, I don’t even think he’s been sin binned in his career let alone sent off and he’s not one to play like that but he was just trying to change the momentum of the game and shot off the line and obviously he got it wrong,” Morris said.
Morris added that things “happen at a million miles” and it was a split-second decision.
The commentators still couldn’t believe Townsend was punted.
“I did not see the send off coming,” Russell said.
Roach agreed: “What? Turn it up.
“You could put it on report and let them work it out, I don‘t think it’s a send off.”
At halftime in the second game of the night, Panthers great Greg Alexander called the whole incident “bizarre”.
“It’s one of the more bizarre incidents I’ve seen in a long time,” he said. “We don’t see many send offs in the game.
“He left the ground, he hit him high — now I don’t know whether he did make contact with the head — but it was such a crazy moment from Chad Townsend, I was shocked when I saw it really.
“The referee had called a halt to play but Chad carried on.”
Braith Anasta said the issue comes down to whether the shoulder hit the head, because if it didn’t, he said it shouldn’t have been a send off.
However, on Channel 9, Andrew Johns said: “He’s in a lot of trouble. Unbelievable.”
Post-match, Ponga said” “He was on the ground, he was above me, that was how it unfolded. It is was it is, he got sent off so it’s what happened.”
Ponga also denied that he was hit in the head with the impact on his body sending him backwards.
Ex-Sharks captain Paul Gallen said sending Townsend off was an “over-reaction” while Dragons premiership winner Jamie Soward agreed.
“Are you kidding me. What a joke,” he tweeted.
However, social media was pretty happy with the send off.
It wasn’t the first controversial moment of the game with a Tony Rudolph also placed on report for a “suplex” tackle.
After the Knights hot first half, Lino was picked up with Rudolph deemed to have thrown the Knights half down.
“He does it to the littlest man on the field, take on some of the big blokes,” Roach said in commentary.
“That‘s very dangerous this. He’ll be on report for sure. He’s tried to suplex him here. He’s tried to put his head through the ground.
“That‘s really nasty.”