The Penrith Panthers have shown why they are the minor premiers in 2020, showing no mercy on the Canterbury Bulldogs in a 42-0 thrashing.
The Panthers ran out 22-0 at halftime in what is little more than a training run for the league’s front runners.
But the game has been rocked by an alleged eye gouge 15 minutes into the game when Bulldogs English import Luke Thompson was accused of the act by the Panthers’ James Tamou.
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Having moved over to Australia from St Helens, Thompson was rated as one of the best front-rowers in the world but has been on a struggling side that has only just dodged the wooden spoon.
However he will likely have to front the judiciary and potentially miss the opening rounds of next season after the incident.
Earlier this month Thompson admitted he was homesick having moved to the NRL mid-season, but vowed to complete his three-year deal.
Thompson was placed on report after Tamou put in a complaint to referee Henry Perenara.
The referee’s mic heard Perenara asking: “Do you believe it was Luke Thompson?”
When confirmed, Perenara said: “We’re going to put that incident on report, that’s all we’re going to do at this stage.”
The commentators quickly looked back over the footage and Ben Ikin said “On first look back, that’s a finger in the eye.”
“That’s no good,” he added. “So James Tamou made the complaint because he was the recipient.”
“He might argue that (he was unfortunate to place his hand there) but either way he had his fingers jammed into his eyes of James Tamou.
“Tamou reacted immediately with great restraint, mind you. But that’s as clear a cut an eye gouge I have seen. That’s fingers in eyes.”
But at halftime, Tamou played down the incident when talking to Fox League.
“Yeah it was an eye gouge, I was hoping to get the penalty, I felt something there,” the Panthers prop told Fox League at halftime.
“My eyes were closed I don’t think there was much in it. I think there was a bit of emotion – last game of the year. It’s all good.”
But during the break, Cooper Cronk added that he thought there was more behind it.
“The evidence there in the footage is quite damning from that reverse angle,” he said. “Look at that, there’s definitely fingers in around the eye.
“Tamou said in the interview that he felt it but he was playing for the penalty and then downplayed it which is the player’s code to not dob in your mate of your opponent but Luke Thompson will most likely be fronting the judiciary this week. He’s going to have to stay in the bubble because he’s going to have to fight the charge. But the evidence is damning.”
Mal Meninga agreed that he thought he was “gone”.
“The evidence is there, it’s in colour, it’s on TV, it just shows that his fingers are in James Tamou’s eye,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a gouging incident but he’s obviously got his finger in his eye.”
Cronk said that one thing may have been that Tamou got straight back up and played the ball before complaining to Perenara at the next break in play.
But the Panthers hardly needed the help of a penalty, celebrating the club’s third minor premiership and the presentation of the JJ Giltinan Shield for the minor premiers.
The eight tries to zero result was the side’s 15th straight victory heading into the finals series.